Philip Rivers' Turnovers Holding Chargers Back
To remedy a floundering ground game and lack of offensive cohesion, Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn changed offensive coordinators two weeks ago and reinvigorated his team. Whether Lynn finds a solution to his latest problem — Philip Rivers' penchant for turnovers — could well determine whether the Chargers return to the playoffs.
During Thursday night's loss to the Oakland Raiders, Rivers tossed five interceptions (two negated by penalty) and nearly fumbled away another possession. While the fault for every turnover doesn't fall on him — Hunter Henry slipped on the RingCentral Coliseum turf when Rivers threw a pick-six to Oakland safety Erik Harris — the multi-pick game continues a disturbing trend for the eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback.
Though Rivers has taken a devil-may-care approach to ball security throughout his career, the issue has grown more pronounced since the start of October. During a two-game stretch to start the month, Rivers committed three first-half turnovers that set up the opponent in Los Angeles territory or resulted in a defensive touchdown. In both of those contests, the Chargers quickly fell behind by double digits and never recovered, ultimately committing more turnovers before the final whistle.
Likewise, Oakland turned two of Rivers' interceptions into a 10-point lead with 2:45 remaining in the first quarter. If not for the Raiders committing a season-high 12 penalties, two of which negated Rivers turnovers including an atrocious pick at the goal line, the Chargers likely wouldn't have found themselves in position to score the go-ahead field goal in the final minute of play.
"I have to watch the tape and evaluate him like I evaluate everyone else," Lynn said of Rivers. "I know he would like to have those turnovers back."
Coming out of Thursday's game, Rivers' 12 total turnovers trail only Daniel Jones, Baker Mayfield, and Jameis Winston for most in the NFL. Unlike that trio of quarterbacks, each of which remains on his rookie contract, Rivers is a grizzled veteran in his 16th season. The Chargers expect their franchise signal-caller to avoid those kinds of field-tilting mistakes, and Rivers' inability to do so largely explains Thursday's loss and the fluctuations in the team's performance this year.
"We can't turn the ball over, we know that," Lynn said. "We turned it over, they didn't. So, if you're asking me about today's game, that's the first thing I look at. Winning and losing. Turning the ball over and not taking it away. That's No. 1."
Despite Rivers' struggles with accuracy and ball security Thursday, the Chargers' coaching staff seemed to exacerbate the problem at the end of the game.
Trailing by just two points with a minute and all three timeouts remaining, new offensive coordinator Shane Steichen strayed almost completely from the short and intermediate passing game in favor of a string of deep shots. Six of the drive's eight plays saw Rivers target a receiver between 15 and 40 yards down the field, none of them completed. The offense's only yardage came on a questionable defensive-holding penalty on Raiders cornerback Trayvon Mullen. The series and Los Angeles' hopes for a comeback ended on Rivers' desperation heave into the waiting arms of Oakland's Karl Joseph.
"Trying to move the ball down the field, we needed a score," Lynn said of the final possession. "They did a heck of a job and locked us up. I think we had eight shots. I don't think we gained 1 yard. We put ourselves in position to win at the end. We didn't stop anybody, and we didn't make any plays on offense. It's disappointing."
At 4-6 and sitting at third place in the AFC West, the Chargers have now burned through whatever margin for error they had. In order to return to the playoffs, they likely need to run the table and win the final six games on their schedule. That stretch includes two matchups with the Kansas City Chiefs and reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes. The Chargers also will not play in Los Angeles again until Dec. 15, adding additional strain to an already stressed team.
"We have to work our tail off to reach our goal, and that was to get back to the tournament," Lynn said. "I don't know if we can lose another game, and they understand that."
That task appears daunting in any context. It looks practically Sisyphean unless the Chargers find a way to curtail Rivers' giveaways and help him reclaim his franchise form.
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH