The Falcons have shown an improved pass rushing aptitude this season. The sack numbers haven't been huge--just five in two games--but they're getting much better pressure than they have in years past.
That's a great thing. Unfortunately, that's also the only way to really slow down Philip Rivers.
Rivers had an unusually poor season in 2011, throwing way too many picks and generally crumbling in extraordinary fashion for the active quarterback with the highest career passer rating coming into the season. That led to a pretty poor year for the Chargers in general. As Rivers goes, so too goes San Diego.
In an effort to understand what's different about Rivers this year, I took a closer look at some game footage and his game splits for the 2012 season. Small sample size caveat and all that, but what I saw was fairly terrifying.
After the jump, a closer look at Rivers.
First off, to understand how the Chargers run their offense when it's scripted out, take a closer look at this Bolts from the Blue post. It'll get you started.
What Rivers has always done well, when his blocking permits, is stand tall in the pocket. He's a little bit famous for throwing a floaty pass, but that ignores the fact that he's lobbing those suckers up there with exactly the location and timing his receivers need to catch them. Through the limited film I was able to watch, he's had a ton of time and still has that zeppelin-point accuracy.
Then I dove into the stats, and here's what's frightening about Rivers: There are no particular splits. On Sundays and Mondays, he performs about the same. In the first quarter through the four quarter, he's about the same. And so on. This has been especially true this season, but it's also true throughout his distinguished career.
The key, then, is making sure that Rivers doesn't have the time to throw those pretty passes. It means the Falcons will have to be better than they've ever been at getting after the quarterback, putting pressure on him and forcing him to...well, force those throws. That leads to mistakes with most quarterbacks, but that's especially true for Rivers.
How would you stop Rivers?