Michael Lombardo: How many of Philip Rivers' 3,152 yards last year came though the air, and how many were yards after the catch? How does this ratio compare to some of the other top quarterbacks in the NFL?
Ed Thompson: Rivers got a decent amount of help from his receivers with just 1,738 yards (55 percent) being earned from the line of scrimmage to the point of the catch. He didn't finish far behind New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, who covered 58 percent of his passing yards purely on the strength of his arm, but he lagged behind a number of other well-known signal-callers.
Ben Roethlisberger took care of an impressive 63.4 percent of the Pittsburgh Steelers' passing yards while the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning shouldered 61.8 percent. Rivers also trailed the Cincinnati Bengals' Carson Palmer and the Cleveland Browns' Derek Anderson, who both covered 60 percent of the yards. The Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo was on their heels at 59.2 percent.
However, Rivers' 55 percent still puts him right in the mix among a few other very talented QBs such as the Saints' Drew Brees (52.2), the Seahawks' Matt Hasselbeck (52.7), and the Packers' Brett Favre (48.7).
Obviously, one of the factors that hurts Rivers in that category is his frequency of throwing to LaDainian Tomlinson, but what quarterback in his right mind wouldn't put the ball in his hands as often as possible? Tomlinson led the team in yards after the catch with an average of 9.6 per reception.
In 2007, 29.6 percent of Rivers' completions were to his running backs. By comparison, Manning and Roethlisberger completed less than 20 percent of their throws to their backs (16.6 and 19.3 percent, respectively).
ML: With the NFL's record-holder for single-season touchdowns in the backfield, you would think the Chargers would be among the NFL's best offenses inside the 5-yard line. Do the numbers back this up? Which teams were better than the Chargers in this category last season?
ET: Are you ready for this? Oddly enough, it was the exact opposite. When the Chargers had a first-and-goal from inside the 5-yard line, they were the league's worst team in touchdown efficiency, crossing the goal line just 58.3 percent of the time.
San Diego had 12 first downs inside the opponents' five-yard line and scored five times rushing and twice passing.
Strictly out of the other teams who had as many (or more) chances inside the five-yard line, the Cardinals, Bengals and Saints had the most success, scoring touchdowns 87.5 percent of the time. A total of sixteen clubs had at least twelve attempts and finished with a better percentage of success than the Chargers.
But if you look at what the Chargers did in their goal-to-go possessions -- starting a set of downs with the ball anywhere inside the ten-yard line -- they were the best in the league at scoring touchdowns with an 84.6 success rate. They scored 14 rushing touchdowns and eight passing touchdowns.
Tomlinson leaps over the pack for a one-yard score against the Titans.
AP Photo/Chris Carlson
ML: The perception is that the best way to stop LaDainian Tomlinson is with the run blitz. Do the numbers support this? How does L.T. do versus the blitz compared to non-blitzing defenses?
ET: L.T. has plenty of experience in that situation, facing a
run-blitz on 20.6 percent of his career carries. While his average per rush
doesn't suffer much, dropping from 4.6 yards per carry in non-blitz situations
to 4.0 yards against the blitz, statistically teams are twice as likely to stuff
him at the line of scrimmage or drop him for a loss. Tomlinson fails to gain
yardage 16 percent of the time in a blitz situation versus just eight percent
when the opposing defense tees off with just four players trying to come off the
line of scrimmage. And out of his 18 fumbles during his seven-year career, six
of those have occurred during blitz situations -- twice as frequently based on percentage
of attempts. On the positive side, L.T. gains a first down
for his team on 27 percent of his carries when working against the blitz versus
21.3 percent when he's not. But overall, you'd have to say that the blitz is a
good strategy against him.
ML: The Chargers' offense seems to have developed an effective formation for third-and-long situations, keeping Tomlinson and Brandon Manumaleuna in to pick up the blitz. Has this shown up in the standings? How did San Diego rank against the rest of the league in converting third downs of 10 or more yards?
ET: San Diego converted 27.8 percent of those situations, finishing eighth-best in the league. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Jacksonville finished in the top three with a success rate of just over 30 percent.
ML: The Chargers led the NFL in takeaways last season. How did they do in converting turnovers into touchdowns compared to the rest of the NFL?
ET: San Diego's league-leading 48 takeaways -- 18 fumble recoveries and 30 interceptions -- helped them wrap up the top spot in total points off of turnovers with 128 on the season. Their fourteen touchdowns put them in a tie for third in touchdowns following a takeaway, while their ten field goals made put them in a tie for first in that category. Arizona (17) and Indianapolis (15) were the only teams to score more touchdowns, while the Detroit Lions were the other team to score 14 touchdowns.
ML: How did the Chargers do in close games last season? How did that compare to their record in close games during the Marty Schottenheimer era?
ET: They won the only regular-season game that was decided by three points or less in 2007. During Schottenheimer's five-year reign, the team was 7-11 in those nail-biter situations. In games decided by eight points or less, the Chargers were 2-2 last season versus 25-18 during the previous five seasons.
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A member of the Pro Football Writers of America, Ed Thompson's player interviews and NFL features are published across the Scout.com network and at FOXSports.com. You can contact him by email through this link.
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