When the discussion of the greatest quarterbacks in the NFL are bantered, there are the usual names that come up immediately – Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Andrew Luck, etc.
One name that isn’t mentioned often in that list of San Diego’s Philip Rivers, despite having a résumé that could well end up having him in the Hall of Fame when all is said and done.
A high first-round draft pick in 2004 – part of the bizarre draft-and-trade deal made between the New York Giants and Chargers when Eli Manning said he wouldn’t sign with San Diego – Rivers has been a starter since 2006, has never missed a game in that span, has thrown for more than 4,000 yards six of the last seven years, hasn’t thrown fewer than 26 touchdown passes in each of the last seven years and has a career passer rating of 95.9, which ranks him sixth on the all-time list.
While viewed as a very good quarterback, his lack of postseason success – he’s never been to a Super Bowl – has clumped him in with some of the very good quarterbacks, but not among the elite. That is, unless you ask Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer.
He couldn’t have enough good things to say about Rivers this week as his defense looks to shut him down and continue the roll they started last week with their win against the Lions. Zimmer isn’t one to heap false praise on an opponent, but, when it comes to Rivers, it’s clear that Zim is a fan.
“He’s really tough,” Zimmer said. “I really love everything about him. I’ve had some big battles with him. He’s won some and we’ve won some. In my opinion he’s one of the best quarterbacks of all-time just because of the way he wins, the way he competes and fights. I love the guy.”
Perhaps one of the things that plays against Rivers’ universal inclusion as one of the game’s great quarterbacks is that he has one of the most bizarre throwing motions of any QB in the league. With a sidearm delivery that often looks like he’s throwing a shotput instead of a football, it’s a funky delivery coaches in college and the NFL have tried to break him of with little in the way of success.
It’s how he’s always thrown the ball and it works for him. Former teammate Jeremiah Sirles provided an explanation to Rivers’ strange release point and said it dates back to his childhood when he had to hold the ball from underneath to throw passes.
“He throws it kind of funny,” Sirles said. “He’s told the story that he throws it like that because, when he was younger, his dad was a high school football coach and he started throwing high school footballs at a really young age. He couldn’t really hold it, so he had to kind of sidearm it. That’s why he kind of throws funny, but it gets where it needs to go most of the time.”
Coaches have learned to accept that Rivers doesn’t throw aesthetically pleasing passes, but they succeed in their intent. For defensive backs who have had to cover the players on the receiving end of Rivers’ passes, he is capable of threading the needle at any time and can make defenders look bad.
Sunday will be the first time Xavier Rhodes will be trying to thwart Rivers and keep him from posting the kind of numbers that have become typical for him. He’s watched a lot of film on Rivers and, while his throws aren’t textbook, they’re effective.
“It may not always look pretty, but it gets there,” Rhodes said. “He’s been around in this league for a long time and has earned his respect. They love to throw the ball, and whether they had everybody or not I think they would still be throwing. That’s what they do.”
The best thing the Vikings may have going for them is that Rivers is a stationary target. In 150 career games, he has rushed for just 515 yards, only about 3½ yards a game for his career. He isn’t going to take off running, so the Vikings’ pass rushers know that if they can hit they gaps, they will meet where Rivers is standing.
“You want a guy back there that isn’t going to run around, extend plays and stress the guys in coverage,” defensive end Brian Robison said. “At the end of the day, you still have to beat the guy in front of you to get to him, but he’s one of the guys that, if you do beat your man, you have a pretty good idea where he’s going to be.”
It’s hard to imagine a quarterback who has been starting for a decade to be viewed as underrated, but somehow Rivers hasn’t received his full credit for the job he has done over the years. When it comes to his fellow players, there is a respect factor that has them preparing to be on their “A” game Sunday, because if they’re not Rivers has the skill and savvy to pick them apart.
“He’s a veteran who has seen just about everything there is to see,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “He’s won a lot of games with his arm and we know he’s going to be coming out throwing. We have to be ready for the ball coming out quickly. He’s the kind of quarterback you have to get quick pressure on because he’s tough, will stand in there and deliver the pass. We can’t give him time because he’s good enough to hurt you if you don’t.”