Rams defense will try to match wits with Philip Rivers, the Chargers’ wily quarterback

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers shows a clenched fist to a handful of fans as the end of a 31-20 victory over the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on Sept 16.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

After their shutout victory over the Arizona Cardinals, talk around the Rams’ facility centered on defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ nickname for the zero on the scoreboard:

A doughnut.

Phillips found a doughnut on his desk when he arrived for work Monday, a gift from another assistant coach.

Cornerback Aqib Talib told reporters he personally prefers glazed doughnuts. Coach Sean McVay opts for strawberry icing. Defensive lineman Aaron Donald said he forsakes the sweet treats to keep his “four-pack” abs.


And Phillips?

“If you look at me a little bit,” the 71-year-old Phillips said, referring to his physique, “you’ll realize that I pretty much like them all.”

The Rams’ defense has been dominant — it has not allowed a point in the last six quarters — but a second consecutive shutout against the Chargers on Sunday at the Coliseum is not likely.

Not with quarterback Philip Rivers leading the Chargers’ offense.


The savvy 15th-year pro has guided his team to a 1-1 start. Last week, Rivers passed for 256 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-20 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

“You can’t fool him,” Phillips said of disguising the defensive scheme. “He’s going to know what you’re in….

“He basically throws to the weakness of the defense almost every play. He has been doing that for a long time and he continues to do that. He still looks great.”

Phillips has a long history with Rivers.

He was the Chargers’ defensive coordinator in 2004, when Marty Schottenheimer’s staff coached Rivers and the South team in the Senior Bowl before the NFL draft.

Rivers, who played in college at North Carolina State, was selected the game’s most valuable player.

“He was the guy, obviously, we wanted,” Phillips said.

The Chargers held the No. 1 pick, and Mississippi quarterback Eli Manning had made it known that he would not sign with the Chargers if they chose him.


The Chargers picked Manning anyway, and then traded him to the New York Giants in exchange for Rivers, who was selected fourth. The Chargers also got a fourth-round draft pick in 2004 and first- and fifth-round picks in 2005.

Rivers, 36, has passed for 51,028 yards and 348 touchdowns in his NFL career. He has led the Chargers to five playoff appearances and was voted to seven Pro Bowls, including the last two seasons.

“He’s just improved as he has gone along,” Phillips said. “Improved with age.”

So has Phillips, who began his NFL coaching career in 1976.

During the 2015 season, Phillips helped the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl with one of the most dominant defenses in NFL history.

Last season, under first-year coach Sean McVay, he helped guide the Rams to an 11-5 record and their first playoff appearance since 2004. The addition of players such as Talib and Marcus Peters at cornerback and lineman Ndamukong Suh has made the Rams a Super Bowl favorite.

“They just line up and say they’re better than you,” Rivers said. “That works for them a lot of the time.”

In the season opener at Oakland, the Rams gave up a touchdown and a field goal in the first half, and then shut down the Raiders in the second half.


The Cardinals did not come close to scoring last week. The Rams held them to five first downs, 137 yards and did not allow them to cross midfield until the final play of the game.

Rivers is not anticipating trickery on Sunday.

“I just know with Wade … I don’t think he’s over there drawing up ways to fool us,” Rivers said. “It’s going to be who can out-execute” the opponent.

Peters has enjoyed success against Rivers, intercepting four passes in six games against the Chargers while playing for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Talib, an 11th-year pro, also has picked off a pass against Rivers.

Both cornerbacks said they have enormous respect for a quarterback who competes and is not afraid to challenge cornerbacks.

“He’s a Hall of Famer,” Talib said. “I’m looking forward to playing against him. It’s always fun.”

Against the Raiders and Cardinals, the Rams’ defensive line was frustrated at times because quarterbacks Derek Carr and Sam Bradford got rid of the ball quickly to avoid sacks.

Rivers also gets the ball out quick, but he is more apt to hold the ball while trying to make a play.

“We going to get to him,” Donald said. “We hopefully get him down and get some sacks. But it’s going to come.”

Phillips is confident the Rams will get pressure on Rivers and the secondary will cover.

But Phillips also is pragmatic.

“We just have to wait,” he said, “and see what he does.”

Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein

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