Rivers in the flow

After sitting on the bench as Drew Brees' backup during his first two seasons in San Diego, highly-touted Philip Rivers had made an early splash this season while taking over as the Chargers' starting quarterback. Here, Rivers talks Chargers and 49ers and gives his takes on several subjects regarding the two teams, including the different paths taken by him and 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.

Q: What have you seen from the defenses you've faced so far?
Rivers:
I think what determines the coverages I see is not so much me, but our running backs behind me, and our tight ends so close in formation. A lot of the coverages and structures we see is due to those three guys. We have weapons outside as well, and we've seen it all. Last week Pittsburgh brought every blitz known to man. Baltimore did a little bit of the same, and they played a 4-4 package to try and stop the run, and make us beat them by throwing. Against Tennessee we were able to take advantage of some passing opportunities they gave us and against Oakland we ran the ball a lot. We've seen a lot of different stuff, I've seen a lot of different stuff, and I've learned and grown a lot in these first four games. You go off the tapes that you see of your opponents, and going into San Francisco, I'll go into what they do. You go in with your playbook, prepared to see anything, and you just react. I think that throughout these first four games, this past off-season, and my first two seasons, I've been able to learn and see a lot, and at least have a good idea of what's coming, when it's coming, and how to react to it. That's kind of the way I approach it.

Q: What clicked for you this past week against the Steelers?
Rivers:
First of all, they brought a lot of pressure, but it was a lot of what we had seen. We were prepared for it, and our guys recognized it. I have to give a lot of credit to the protection unit. I say unit, because that includes the offensive line and the backs. LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner were great, Brandon Manumaleuna did a great job in the shotgun, Lorenzo Neal, and Antonio Gates, who was back there occasionally. The protection was unreal in picking up everything they recognized. I was able to pick up and recognize things, and we just took advantage of it. Guys made great catches, and big plays, and we were able to put two big long, scoring drives together right before the half and at the end of the third quarter. They were huge for us. I think every game is its own game, and you play every game differently, and you have a different approach. You react differently and every game has a different flow to it. In Pittsburgh, we knew to throw the ball because they were bringing a ton of pressure. Late in the game we were able to run the ball and finish the game off. Every game is different, and San Francisco does a lot of good things on defense. They also do a lot of stuff to mix it up a lot. They play every coverage and front known to man, and they are coming off a big win against Oakland. They are playing at home, and we know we have our work cut out for us. We are preparing like crazy.

Q: Is there no coming down from the emotion of beating the defending Super Bowl champions?
Rivers:
There won't be a letdown here at all. We have a great group of guys led by a lot of veteran players who have been there before. I'm sure they have gone through it before. Coming out of a big win and falling asleep the following week, and I'm sure they have been around teams who have come out of a big win and kept plugging. They lead the group in that manner, and then it's my job as the quarterback to keep things going with all our other leaders. We're not satisfied with defeating the Super Bowl Champs, that's one game in the middle of the season. We have a long way to go towards where we want to be, and we know that. It's early in the season, and San Francisco is 2-1 at home, and off a big win against Oakland. We'll have our hands full, and be ready to come out there and have a heck of a game.

Q: Which is more difficult to face, a 4-3 defense or a 3-4?
Rivers:
Our team runs a 3-4, so we go against a 3-4 all year, and in the offseason. We've seen every 3-4 disguise, and all forms of the 3-4 this year. Pittsburgh and Baltimore run it, while Oakland and Tennessee showed more four down stuff. San Francisco has shown both, and we'll prepare for both, and be ready. We won't let any front or blitz surprise us. They may have something for us, but we'll react to it, and move on.

Q: The way your defense is playing, do you sometimes not even want to face it in practice?
Rivers:
They are tough. I think it helps us to do it in the offseason. Even though they can't hit me in practice, I still feel them around me. That helps me with the speed. With the guys getting to you it helps me get the ball out quicker. It helps you for game situation, and it helps our guys up front by blocking them. I would like to think that we help them with all the different formations, and motions we do. It's a good unit, and we have a good team to work with. We work well with one another throughout the off-season and camp and I think it helps us during the season.

Q: How much did being a backup during your first two sesons help in your development as opposed to the way the 49ers did it with Alex Smith, throwing him in there early in his rookie season?
Rivers:
I feel thankful for the last two years. They were tough, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't wish I was playing. I certainly wished I was out there. Looking back now, I benefited a lot from it. I think I'll realize even more how I benefited from those two years as my career flourishes. I learned a lot from Drew Brees, I learned a lot from preparing and seeing things from the sidelines. I learned a lot and got better fundamentally, just learning this game, which is a little different. I have a lot of knowledge of the game of football itself, but it is a little different in the league in understanding the ins-and-outs and what we are trying to accomplish. I'm thankful for the last two years, and I know I'm a much better player now than I was if I would have stepped in two years ago. It's not even close.

Q: What was your perception of how the way the 49ers did it with Smith affected him?
Rivers:
In a case such as Alex, he was thrown right in there, and he would not be the first to say that there were some struggles there. But at the same time, he obviously learned and developed and it didn't beat him up. He's the type of guy and player who has the ability to keep grinding through it. You look now, and he's gotten off to a good start this year, and he probably thinks last year was very beneficial to him. I don't think there is a wrong or a right way, I don't think there is one better way than the other. I think it depends on the guy, and it takes the right guy and the right mindset to not let them get discouraged whether it is from not playing, or having some tough times.

Q: How important was it for you to start 51 games in college?
Rivers:
I think that definitely helped, and it was one of the reasons I felt I was ready to play right away. I had played so many games in college, and in some big-time games against opponents like Florida State, Notre Dame, and in the ACC. That made me think I was ready to roll right away, and certainly looking back I believe I could have stepped in there and done some decent things. I'm sure I would have had some tough times, but I still felt like I could have done it. Certainly, I was not as ready as I was this year, but all those experiences paid off for me. The more games you play at any level, the better you are going to be. Experience is a great learning tool. There are things that have happened in these last four games that I look at and say man, I can't believe that happened, or I can't believe I didn't see that. But I know that if you learn from it and correct it, you won't let it happen again. Obviously, things are going to get you and I'm talking about little things that you see that have never happened to you. There are a lot of firsts out there, and as long as you don't make crucial mistakes, you can learn from them and they can help your team.

Q: What's your feelings about facing your former North Carolina State teammates now playing with the 49ers, linebacker Manny Lawson and defensive back Marcus Hudson?
Rivers:
They were two great teammates, and guys who I had a lot of fun with and we won a lot of games together. Marcus is probably not as well-known, and flew under the radar, but we knew him at NC State as a great player. He has great instincts, great knowledge of the game, and he has a knack. He's a great football player, as you've seen as a safety, or a corner. He can play in the slot, nickel, and he can do a bunch of different things like on special teams. I was able to visit with him in the preseason, and he seemed to be enjoying it and excited to be able to get the opportunity. Manny is obviously coming in as a high draft pick. According to the scouting report I heard he blocked a punt last week. I didn't see it, but that's something we all remember him for at NC State because he was a heck of a special teams player. He blocked a bunch of kicks, field goals and punts, and now his role in the defense is increasing every week. He really flies around the field. He has speed, he can really run, and we'll certainly have to be aware of him out there because of his speed. He can certainly wreak some havoc on the pass rush. They are two young guys, and two good players that I would expect to have long careers.

Q: Will you check to see where Manny is lined up on your first play?
Rivers:
Yeah, but I'll just know from past experiences where he is. It's funny watching the tape because sometimes from the sideline view, you can't always see the numbers. You get a feel, and you know who plays what position. I will know where he is just off his stance and his mannerisms, just from being around him. He's an up-and-coming player with a lot of ability, and he's a talented guy who I'd like to think San Francisco is thrilled to have him.

Q: Does knowing a guy off the field, or being a college teammate, offer much of an advantage in either direction?
Rivers:
It's funny, because I was thinking if there were any things that I could use to work towards my advantage on Manny. What is something that would help our guys, and I'm sure he's thought of the same thing. It's tough, because I think at NC State, during practice, I would know exactly what the guy does because I knew the scheme and what they were trying to do. Obviously, I'm studying San Francisco, but I don't get to see them every day. Just like I would know more about what our secondary is doing here than the team we're playing. You know that from being out at practice everyday and seeing it. Certainly, some of Manny's mannerisms and things like that, and you just know his abilities, but you can't get a feel for little things. I don't think you want to get caught up in that. If it's a stone-cold key I found, then maybe, but you don't want to get caught up watching one guy because there are 10 other guys. When you know a guy, it's fun to watch them because you study so much, then you say okay I'm going to watch Manny for a few plays, or watch only Hudson, you just enjoy it. You enjoy it because you remember pulling for them on your side, and now you are trying to beat them.

Q: So why does your name have only one 'L' instead of two?
Rivers:
That's how it's spelled in the Bible.


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