Quarterbacks of all shapes and sizes excel at one vital aspect to winning games. Short yardage conversions. Since 2015, when rushing with 1-3 yards to go, quarterbacks convert first downs at a steep 78% rate.
And yet one quarterback refuses to join that fray and help his team earn easy first downs.
Since 2015, Rivers only has seven rushes in short-yardage situations. I went back to 2015 and watched all seven. Only one of them was an actual quarterback sneak and he converted it for a first down. Technically, a 100 percent conversion rate on sneaks. But it was his only conversion.
The problem for the Chargers, and the reason he has six other failed rushing attempts, is that Rivers consistently screws around behind center, changing plays late and is rarely in one spot. The QB-center exchange from shotgun is highly problematic in many of these key, short-yardage situations. And often, the ball is bouncing around on the ground following a miscommunicated snap, and Rivers picks it up and gets tackled. Or he attempts a handoff but due to miscommunication, the running back isn’t there, so he lays down.
Instead of calling his own number and simply sneaking the ball, Rivers’s habit of late play-clock indecision has resulted in disaster for the Chargers on downs that should be converting at a high rate.
The larger problem, beyond Rivers’s vacillation, is why the hell aren’t the Chargers using the quarterback sneak in short yardage?
Since 2015, Rivers has never missed a start. And he has just one short-yardage sneak. ONE. In 64 games!
There is NO BETTER play in short yardage situations than the QB sneak.
78% of the time they convert 1st downs
Since 2015 many QBs have ~25+ total sneaks. But one QB refuses to use them.
Never missing a game, Rivers has ONE in 4 yrs!
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) July 24, 2019
It’s not as if his running back teammates are good at short-yardage rushing, either. The league average for running backs is a 61 percent first down rate and Rivers’s lead back, Melvin Gordon, is right at a 61 percent first down rate (league average). Chargers No. 2 running back, Austin Ekeler, is substantially worse at a 42 percent first down rate.
The quarterback sneak is a weapon. A highly successful weapon.
Tom Brady is the master at using them. Only Cam Newton and Tyrod Taylor have more rushing attempts in short-yardage than Brady’s 38. And Brady’s 84 percent conversion rate is well above the quarterback average.
With their running backs collectively converting well below the league-average, there is absolutely no justification for Rivers to never sneak the ball.
Other teams around the league need to take this advice as well. Of all players with over five attempts, only 976 (of 8,120 total attempts) were quarterback rushes. That’s just 12 percent. Yet these rushes convert first downs at a 78 percent rate, well above that of non-QBs (61 percent). If teams want to win, more than 12 percent of short-yardage rushes need to be quarterback sneaks.
Teams need to let their quarterback sneak the ball when in short-yardage situations. Philip Rivers needs to answer for why he never sneaks the ball. And if the Chargers want to zap some efficiency into their offense, they should focus on having Rivers call his own number sneak the ball in short-yardage situations in 2019.
Read more problems with the 2018 Chargers and what they must do to get back on track for 2019 success in Warren Sharp’s 2019 Football Preview, an Amazon Best Seller for the last four weeks.