St. Louis Rams: Philip Rivers

SAN DIEGO – Perhaps the weight of matching wits against Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning last week was too much for the St. Louis Rams defense.

With Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers pushing the buttons on Sunday, the Rams ran into another pre-snap master, the type of quarterback capable of getting his team out of bad plays and into good ones. He doesn’t get the same credit for doing that as Manning, but the Rams got a not-so-subtle reminder of how good Rivers is Sunday afternoon.

In guiding San Diego to a 27-24 victory, Rivers looked lost early but quickly found answers to all of the Rams’ questions. The Rams, meanwhile, were unable to adjust as Rivers and the Chargers offense buried them under an avalanche of screens, draws and other assorted short-area plays that often turned into big gains.

“It’s the same stuff they’ve been doing,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “They’re good. Their back is a good, young back and Philip is also pretty good at the line of scrimmage at changing things. We also stopped some draws and stopped some bubble screens on the defensive side.”

For a half, they certainly did. Rivers was able to connect on 15-of-20 first-half pass attempts but those completions netted just 106 yards, an average of just 5.3 yards per attempt as the Rams consistently and quickly made tackles.

In the second half, that changed. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Rivers’ average pass traveled just 3.9 yards in the air, his lowest since 2010. But the sure-tackling back seven that had been there for the Rams vanished in the final 30 minutes.

On the day, San Diego’s collection of receivers had 205 yards after the catch, led by wide receiver Keenan Allen’s 81. Rivers finished 29-of-35 for 291 yards with a touchdown and an interception and had a rating of 98.9.

“We just left a few plays out there from that standpoint defensively,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “We kept things in front of us in the back end, but we fell short on tackling today.”

Making matters more difficult was Rivers’ ability to adjust on the fly. Rivers clearly picked up on some of the Rams’ blitzing tendencies in the first half and exploited them in the second.

The Rams blitzed Rivers 16 times, according to ESPN Stats & Information, eight times in each half. In the first half, Rivers was 5-of-8 for 40 yards against the blitz. In the second, he connected on all eight attempts for 108 yards and a touchdown.

“Philip Rivers did a good job of catching on to what we were doing and he checked and audibled and made great calls of throwing screens into where the pressure was coming from,” McLeod said. “It’s just tough when they get the linemen out like that, how fast they were getting out. It was just good execution by them.”

Final 2013 preseason QB snap counts

August, 30, 2013
Six projected starting quarterbacks played in their teams' final exhibition games of the 2013 preseason. The Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson and the San Francisco 49ers' Colin Kaepernick were two of them, and both led touchdown drives before exiting after one series. None of the NFL's projected starters got hurt Thursday night.

The chart shows week-by-week snap counts for quarterbacks I singled out as projected starters heading into preseason. NFC West alums Kevin Kolb and Matt Flynn might not start after all, but I've left them in the chart for context.

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has generally played starters in the final preseason game. He did not this time.

"Typically I have, but I guess in the new world that we’re in, it’s hard to," Fisher told reporters after the Rams' game against Baltimore. "What that implies is that I'm pleased with where they are right now, those guys that sat. They worked hard. We got a great workout and it allowed them to fast-forward their minds to Arizona."

Fisher could have been alluding to the run of higher-profile injuries around the league this summer. Last year, the Rams lost rookie defensive tackle Michael Brockers to a high-ankle sprain in the final preseason game.

The Rams emerged from this preseason healthier than their division rivals. That did not stop the 49ers from playing their offensive starters or the Seahawks from playing starters on both sides of the ball Thursday night. The Arizona Cardinals rested most of their starters, though Michael Floyd was one notable exception.

San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh offered no explanation for playing his starting offense one series. Kaepernick hadn't gotten many snaps through the first three games, however. Getting additional reps for Kaepernick and the team's group of emerging receivers made some sense on the surface.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll went into the final preseason game saying he wanted starters to play because the team values this games as competitive opportunities.