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Evaluating Philip Rivers’ Fit With The Colts

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The 2019 season marked the end of Philip Rivers‘ tenure with the Los Angeles Chargers. Rivers has spent his whole professional career with the Chargers until this past offseason. After a mediocre final season in Southern California, he is taking his talents to the Indianapolis Colts on a one-year deal. Rivers’ move to Indianapolis may not be a long term solution for the Colts, but rather a temporary fix to navigate the post-Andrew Luck era.

Quarterback Questions

The Colts struggled last season after Luck’s shocking retirement in late August. The team’s 7-9 record was not enough to make playoffs. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett had a strong start in the first half of the season but got progressively worse due to an injury in Week 9. Despite Brissett’s injury, his numbers are not ideal. Last season he had a completion rate just under 61 percent and a YPA of 6.85. Brissett’s average performance has led some to question if he is ready to be the face of the Colts establishment.

It is clear that the Colts front office was not exactly satisfied with Brissett’s performance. During a press conference earlier this year, Colts GM Chris Ballard admitted that “Jacoby [Brissett] did some good things, but our passing game has to improve, unequivocally.” As of now, Brissett will be the backup quarterback to Rivers.

Having Rivers in Indianapolis increases the Colts’ chances of returning to the playoffs. Rivers’ best seasons with the Chargers happened under the leadership of current Colts head coach Frank Reich from 2013-2017. In 2013, Rivers had his career-high completion rate of 69.5 percent. Reuniting Rivers and Reich begs the question of whether Rivers can once again reach that same level of high achievement. The presence of Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, who also worked with Rivers in Los Angeles, will make for a smoother transition for everyone involved. While Rivers has always been a great quarterback, his last season with the Chargers was not the best.

Concerns from California

The Chargers ended the 2019 season with a 5-11 record and placed last in the AFC West. While Rivers is not the only one at fault for the Chargers’ disappointing season, his performance cannot be ignored. He had 20 interceptions last season, four of those being from the Week 11 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. Rivers has been in the league since 2004, so it is no surprise that many believe his performance is declining. However, Coach Reich denies “any [of Rivers’] physical gifts diminishing” in a statement on the Colts’ official website. Even Rivers himself denies a general decline in his performance.

“There were some bad plays. Certainly some throws I want back and certainly some very costly mistakes. I own up to all those. There was so much good and I had some throws last year that were probably as good as I’ve had my whole career,” Rivers said in June via ESPN.

The Indianapolis Colts offensive line. Image Courtesy of the Indianapolis Colts.

The chances of Rivers having a better season in 2020 seem likely. Indianapolis had one of the top offensive lines last season. All five starters from the 2019 season, including first-team All-Pro offensive guard Quenton Nelson, will be returning to the Colts this season. Meanwhile, the Chargers have consistently struggled with maintaining a solid offensive line. The Chargers pass-blocking grade has not improved past their 26th ranking in 2014. Having Rivers work with a more competent offensive line should boost his numbers again.

Aside from the Colts’ stellar offensive line, Rivers will have star receiver T.Y. Hilton and the newly drafted receiver Michael Pittman Jr to work with. Hilton did not drop a single target during the first five games of last season, although he ended up playing only ten games due to injury. Pittman spent his college career at the University of Southern California and only dropped five out of 176 catches. With reliable receivers in his arsenal, Rivers can improve his game once more.

What’s Next?

If the Colts perform dramatically better this season compared to last years’, then it would not be out of the question for Rivers to sign a contract extension. Nonetheless, saying that Philip Rivers is the Colts’ future may not be the most accurate statement due to his age.

Rivers has said that he hopes to stay longer than one season. Some suspect that the upcoming season might be his last. Rivers will be the head coach of a high school football team in Alabama after he retires. But in May, Rivers said that he and the Colts both “hope it’s more than a year. But we take it one year at a time. I love playing. When that time does end, you will get the same passion and work ethic at this school and community that I’ve poured into my career.”

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