By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
---- — INDIANAPOLIS — Change has been very good to Philip Rivers.
At 31, playing under the third different head coach in his 10-year NFL career, the San Diego Chargers quarterback has been reborn.
Running an up-tempo, no huddle scheme that new coach Mike McCoy brought over from the Denver Broncos and has allowed offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to fine tune, Rivers is completing an other-worldly 73.7 percent of his passes — more than eight percent higher than his previous career best (65.3) in 2008.
He's on pace to throw for 5,152 yards and 42 touchdowns. Only Peyton Manning is enjoying a better start, and it comes on the heels of a down season that had some wondering whether the signal-caller's window of opportunity had closed.
The addition of scatterbug running back Danny Woodhead — and the return to health of tight end Antonio Gates — have helped Rivers rebound. The Chargers rank fifth in the league in total offense and second in passing touchdowns, but the quarterback is more focused on the 2-3 start.
"We've done some good things there, but ultimately we want it to translate into wins, and we haven't done enough," he said. "We won two of five, and we know that's not going to get it done."
Indeed, following last Sunday's 27-17 loss against the Oakland Raiders, San Diego currently sits in last place in the AFC West. It's a tough position for a team to be in when so many things have gone right.
The offense has been something of a revelation, with Rivers using the no-huddle scheme to dictate the game's tempo. When he wants to speed up the action, he gets to the line quickly and snaps the ball before the defense has time to make adjustments. When defenses throw a curve ball, the extra time at the line of scrimmage becomes valuable to read the formation and make as many audibles as neccessary to get the Chargers into the right play.
The offense and Rivers have been a good fit from the start.
"From the first day we were here with Philip, he wanted to know more," McCoy said Wednesday during a conference call at the Indianapolis Colts training complex. "It was not a matter of just this is the basic. Well, what's the next step? What's the next option I have? Can I change this protection here? Can we change the backside combination routes? He's done great with the coaches, and Philip has done a great job sitting down, and it's going to expand even more as the season goes on."
Rivers always has managed to be a thorn in the side of the Colts, and Indianapolis expects nothing less when they meet again on Monday night.
In five career meetings, Rivers is 4-1 against the Colts — including 2-0 in the playoffs. His efficiency in the new hurry-up attack only serves to make him that much more of a problem.
"Very much so because sometimes you got to force your hand or show your hand a little bit," Indianapolis defensive end Robert Mathis said, "and if he knows what you're doing, it's a problem. You just have to not show your hand."
Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano is extremely familiar with Rivers from his tenure as a defensive backs coach with the Oakland Raiders in 2005 and 2006. The player he sees on tape this season looks very similar to the one he saw back then, when San Diego was a perennial title contender in the AFC.
"He's a game-wrecker," Pagano said. "He's a winner. He's a Pro Bowler. He gives them a chance every single week to win. We got to do a great job against him both in the back end, up front, across the board."
Rivers isn't interested in the past.
He's looking forward and trying to find a way to get the Chargers back into the race in an AFC West division currently dominated by a pair of 5-0 teams — Denver and Kansas City.
His previous success against the Colts doesn't provide much comfort, either. The teams haven't met since 2010, and Indianapolis has undergone a franchise makeover in the interim.
"They've all been great games," Rivers recalled. "The thing that stands out about this team is they're just so well-coached and disciplined, and they create negative plays for offenses. They're 4-1, could be 5-0, and we're going to have a heck of a challenge here on Monday night."