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Philip Rivers has answers for Rams defense

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.”