A career year for Chargers' Philip Rivers?

SAN DIEGO – Selected by the San Diego Chargers in the same draft class in 2004, center Nick Hardwick spends as much time with quarterback Philip Rivers as anyone.

So Hardwick would be a great subject to answer this question – is 2013 his teammate’s best season of his 10-year pro career?

“I don’t know what the numbers say, but he’s having a great year, for sure,” Hardwick said.

So what’s been the difference for Rivers this season?

“Gosh, I wish I knew,” Hardwick said. “That’s above my pay grade. But he’s dialed in. He’s focused. He knows exactly what he wants to do at the line of scrimmage. And he’s executing.”

Following through on Hardwick’s suggestion, a quick look at the numbers show Rivers having his best year, at least statistically:

  • With 3,381 yards through 11 games, Rivers is on pace to throw for 4,918 yards, which would eclipse the franchise record of 4,802 yards set by Dan Fouts in 1981.

  • Rivers has passed for more than 390 yards four times season, which ties an NFL record set by Dan Marino [1984] and Joe Montana [1990]. Marino and Montana finished as NFL MVPs those seasons.

  • Rivers posted a career-best 70.8 completion percentage though 11 games. He leads the league in completion percentage, is fourth in passing yards [3,381], fifth in passer rating [106.6] and fifth in passing touchdowns [22].

  • According to ESPN Stats & Info, Rivers is one of four quarterbacks to complete at least half of his deep throws at least 15 yards down the field [50.6 percent].

Rivers points to better clarity in the pocket as a reason for his improved play this season. Rivers said he worked on having better pocket presence and being more decisive in his reads during the offseason. So far it has paid off.

Rivers has been sacked only 20 times this season, compared to 49 times last year.

“There are certain games and certain times when you just feel like you’re in a rhythm,” Rivers said. “I see it the most with my feet. When I watch the tape I can tell with my feet that I feel pretty good, and I’m seeing things clearly.

“When you’re not seeing things clearly, you tend to move too early, or your drop is not as smooth. I think that’s something I worked hard at this offseason, being comfortable and staying right there.”

Having clarity in the pocket also has improved another thing for Rivers – knowing when it’s time to leave the pocket to avoid pressure.

“An emphasis for most quarterbacks is when do you leave too early or when do you move too much,” Rivers said. “That’s something – maybe not everyone – but I have always tried to improve on. With this offseason in particular, I looked back at all the times I left the pocket when I didn’t have to.

“When you are comfortable, you have that sense of timing in your feet. ... And there is a time to get out of there and make a play on a run.”

Finally, the installation of a new offense based on the quick passing game has given Rivers more freedom to make calls at the line of scrimmage, similar to Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

“I like the flexibility of it,” Rivers said. “The flexibility that really in any down, any formation, you can get to just about any play. I do enjoy the no-huddle aspect that we use on occasion.

“I do like being at the line a long time. I like being able to have my eyes on the defense. The less time you’re in the huddle, and the more time you’ve got to look, whether you’re seeing more than you would have seen or not, it gives you a little bit of a comfort level there before the ball is snapped.”

And that comfort level in the offense and his trademark work ethic provide a couple of reasons for his high level of play.

“I have just been really impressed with his approach to the game,” offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. “He is a tremendous pro, tremendous leader and obviously is a good player. The flexibility that he allows you to have as an offense is tremendous.”