It’s a streamlined throwing motion that has accelerated over the past few years as Rivers has developed into one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL.
And it’s one that the Baltimore Ravens (1-0) are vividly familiar with as they take on the Chargers (1-0) today at Qualcomm Stadium in what amounts to an early collision between two AFC powerhouses.
On Nov. 25, 2007, the Ravens experienced what traditionally transpires if Rivers is given too much time to grow comfortable in the pocket. In a 32-14 Baltimore defeat, Rivers was never sacked and passed for three touchdown passes and 249 yards.
Twice, he connected with All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates as Gates had several seconds to bolt into his patterns and separate from defenders.
So, it’s imperative that the Ravens take advantage of an injury-riddled offensive line that will be without two starters in Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick and right guard Louis Vasquez.
"If you look at his quarterback rating from last year and things like that, man, the guy has a big arm," said Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who was beaten by Gates for one touchdown in the last meeting with San Diego. "He throws the ball very well and has a lot of targets to really throw the ball to, so I think that’s a great credit to him.
“But the bottom line is he spreads the ball around very well and he loves to sit in that pocket. So, hopefully, we don’t let him sit there too long."
A week ago, the Ravens sacked Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Brodie Croyle three times. He still wound up throwing two touchdown passes and completing the majority of his passes.
And Croyle didn’t lead the NFL with 34 touchdown passes, a 105.5 quarterback rating and 8.4 yards per pass attempt a year ago like Rivers, who also owns a 22-5 record as a starter at home.
"He’s a great quarterback, you’re getting at a different level now," Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "He’s one of those guys if you let him stand back there, those corners, no matter how well they’re playing, they aren’t going to be successful.
"We have to get our pressure with our four-man front. We missed two sacks with a four-man rush the last game. Any chance you have to hit him and to be around him, we’ve got to do that.”
Plus, Rivers has the benefits of having Gates, big wide receiver Vincent Jackson to throw to as well as being able to use diminutive, elusive running back Darren Sproles as a safety valve. However, Pro Bowl runner LaDainian Tomlinson is out today with a sprained ankle.
"We’re going against a better quarterback than we saw last week," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "They have huge wide receivers. It’s a little better challenge for us."
Last season, Rivers topped Dan Fouts’ franchise record for touchdown passes in a single season.
The former North Carolina State star also threw 11 touchdown passes with one interception during the final four games of the regular season to rally the Chargers from a 4-8 start.
A lot of that success is attributable to how decisive Rivers is and how quickly he gets the football out of his hand and into his receivers’ hands.
“If you take the top five or six quarterbacks in the league, they all have a quick release," veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "That’s why they’re the top five or six quarterbacks in the league. It goes hand in hand.
“If you can get the ball out fast, you don’t take a lot of hits, you don’t take a lot of sacks, and the routes come a lot quicker. So, he has a very fast release.”
Rivers isn’t the most nimble quarterback around, but is willing to scramble on occasion. He usually just slides around in the pocket to avoid the rush and get better sight lines to find his receivers.
The 6-foot-5, 228-pound Alabama native was sacked three times during a Monday night win over the Oakland Raiders to open the season as he passed for one touchdown and was intercepted once.
For his career, Rivers has passed for 10,949 yards, 79 touchdowns and 37 interceptions. He was signed to a six-year, $92 million contract that included $38 million in guaranteed money last month.
"Rivers, he’s a big, strong guy," Mattison said. "He’s willing to fire it in tight areas. He’s got a great arm. He’s tough, competitive. He’s got a great will to win, and he can throw it. That’s the main thing."
The Ravens will be heavily counting on Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to harass Rivers all day as he squares off with left tackle Marcus McNeill.
Suggs ranks second in franchise history with 53 sacks. After missing the majority of the preseason with a heel and Achilles’ tendon injury, Suggs is eager to apply some heat to Rivers.
"The pass rush is definitely crucial in every game, it’s always important to put pressure on the quarterback," said Suggs, the Ravens’ $62.5 million man after signing a blockbuster contract in July. "We don’t want him back there all day making whatever decisions he wants to be make."
Generating pressure on Rivers could come right up the middle with nose guard Kelly Gregg and Ngata possibly exploiting a weakness.
The Chargers could be susceptible to overloads and shooting gaps with new center Scott Mruczkowski in the lineup.
"We want to get after these guys right away and make them know we’re comin’ after them," Gregg said. "Hopefully, we’ll be rocking and rolling all day long."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.