Deciding to bench a quarterback is never an easy decision, but it’s even more difficult when it’s a franchise legend. This is now where the Chargers find themselves with potential Hall of Famer Philip Rivers.
We have seen many quarterbacks get benched already in 2019 but under very different circumstances. This is the year that veterans such as Eli Manning, Andy Dalton, and Nick Foles have all been forced to ride the pine at some point. This doesn’t always last, however, as Manning and Dalton will have the chance to start again this weekend (Dalton got his first start again last weekend and led the Bengals to their first win of the season). Although in Rivers’ case, it has the feeling that if he is forced to the bench, it will probably be the final time he takes the field as a Charger.
Although Eli is just as important to his franchise as Rivers, with two championships to his name, his heir apparent was already in the building. Dalton getting yanked in favor of Ryan Finley can be explained away easily enough with the Bengals winless start to the season and an overall lack of faith in the Red Rifle.
Maybe the most similar decision was Peyton Manning’s final season. I am not, by any means, comparing the greatness of these two players, only their significance. Like Manning, Rivers is the face of the franchise which has led to tolerance of his sloppy play.
Manning in that final season was much worse than Rivers has been this year, but the Broncos were a much better team. Denver ended up sending Manning to the bench after a four-interception debacle against the Chiefs (it should be noted that Manning was also injured, and so benching him allowed him to get back to full strength). Many thought Rivers was bound for the same fate after a four pick game of his own against Kansas City. Yet, Rivers trotted out for another heartbreaker last week against Denver.
The Chargers have failed to execute a succession plan for Rivers. Quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor and rookie fifth-round pick Easton Stick are currently behind Rivers right now. Taylor fits the mold of the mobile, careful signal-caller that head coach Anthony Lynn covets. Unfortunately, the last time Taylor was a starter the results were as many interceptions as touchdowns and completing less than half his passes.
Stick showed some flashes of potential in the preseason, including an electric 31-yard rushing touchdown. That being said he’s an extremely raw player, whose arm and decision-making leave much to be desired at this point in his career.
The future for the Chargers at quarterback is not currently on the roster.
This has undoubtedly been at least a small factor as to why Rivers hasn’t seen the bench.
With no one ready to take over the reins, and the team out of the playoff picture, what does the team have to gain by benching Rivers?
One thing that it might accomplish is appeasing an oft-criticized fan base that has had enough of the 37-year old throwing games away. The angst of these fans is palpable, and Rivers hasn’t helped his cause by throwing four game-ending interceptions this season. Although this might quiet some, there is a large contingent that still has faith in Rivers and blames the coaching staff and the front office for not putting him in a position to succeed. In reality, the answer is all of the above.
When you look above at the quarterbacks that have been benched, most of their stats are comparable to Rivers. His 3.4 interception percentage is worse than the likes of Dalton, Case Keenum, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, who have all seen the bench. Out of eligible players, the only player worse in that category is Jameis Winston. He is tied with Mitchell Trubisky for 22nd in the league in Passer Rating (86.9) and his 46.7 Total QBR is the second-lowest of his career.
Turnovers have been Rivers’ biggest crux this season. He’s turned the ball over 17 times through 12 games, the third-most in the NFL. That number doesn’t even tell the whole story because he’s only lost two of his six fumbles and had several easy interceptions dropped. He’s been especially bad inside the division with 10 of his interceptions coming in four games against the AFC West.
Rivers has had tumultuous seasons in the past, but this year it just feels different. There has been a noticeable dip in arm strength leading him to make more anticipatory throws which can be problematic. Sometimes he is just making a bad throw…
At the same time, Rivers is top-3 in passing yards this season and is around his career averages in yards per attempt and completion percentage. He’s also made some ridiculously good throws like last week to Mike Williams.
He also hasn’t been put in the best situations to succeed. The Chargers refuse to consistently use play-action passes, ranking 23rd in the NFL in attempts. Three of the top four quarterbacks in passer rating have attempted at least 98 play-action passes compared to River’s 70. The offense has also struggled to adjust to poor pass-protection from the offensive line play, and game plan around it.
Rivers’ careless mistakes are catching up to him and making the unthinkable a possibility. Last week the Chargers home broadcasters Matt “Money” Smith and Daniel Jeremiah wondered aloud whether the team would bench Rivers mid-game.
The decision would be easy if he wasn’t the franchise leader in passing touchdowns, yards, completions, wins, and passer rating. These numbers are also top 10 amongst all quarterbacks in NFL history. Without those bona fides, he might have already been benched.
So yes, the Chargers should bench Philip Rivers, but I don’t think they will. With the season in the tank, I believe the team will try to save face by continuing to start Phil under unsafe work conditions. If he has another abysmal turnover performance they pull the plug, but if they haven’t done it up to this point it’s hard to imagine they would do it now.
Now Rivers has four starts to show that even though this season is over, maybe his career is not.