Will the Colts new-old quarterback drag the team’s playoff chances over a cliff with interceptions, or is there a winning strategy in play?
As Jane said to Tarzan, “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.” Turnovers are the biggest concerns of Colts fans over their new commander. Last year, Philip Rivers tossed the pigskin for 4,615 yards, but that production was lost in hand-wringing over interceptions.
Yeah, it was bad. Half those picks came against the Kansas City Chiefs in the Mexico City game. At least, that’s the pervading impression by many in the national media. And it wasn’t just the 20 interceptions. Rivers also lost 8 fumbles and got sacked 34 times.
But those three numbers are co-related. For example, 7 more sacks might have been 7 less interceptions. But Rivers was hearing footsteps and feeling phantom pressure early in that year of living dangerously. Those three stats are not the real problem, andthey are symptoms of the bigger problem. That Philip Rivers is declining? Or was the real problem something that the Indianapolis Colts do not have in the slightest.
The 2019 Chargers had an offensive line that was truly offensive.
"“Hold the Line!” — from every battle ever."
I’ve watched Rivers play his whole career, from when Phil and the Mrs. were a one-child family. I saw him play when he had an offensive line of big-ass Bolts, like pro-bowlers Kris Dielman, Marcus McNeill, Nick Hardwick. However, I also saw him play seasons when he had a different line almost every week. One season, they had seventeen linemen shuffle in and out with injuries, more than any other team. But of those 12 years as a starter, his worst O-line ever was in 2019.
Last season Rivers played behind a row of paper dolls, a line of tin soldiers, or traffic cones, or Oompa-Loompas, or Minions. Giants to be sure, but in the light of day they turned to stone.
The 2019 Chargers front-five ranked bottom-four as a group, and some players dead last, in the whole league.
I imagine these were River’s usual 2019 third-down check downs:
1) throw the ball at “one steamboat, two–“, before the receiver is separated or in place. Take some velocity off the ball so the receiver can get to it — but risk an interception.
2) wait .85 seconds longer and risk the sack, or worse, the strip sack.
3) hand the ball to Melvin Gordon, if he runs the right route, and let him fumble on the goal line.
4) dump the ball off to receivers who had more dropped passes than most of the teams in the league.
The Fifth Element
Over the past 12 seasons as a starter, I watched Rivers operate only two seasons with the five essential elements: 1) a great running game; 2) an overweight basketball player for a tight end who could catch jump balls; 3) big athletic wide receivers; 4) great coaching; and 5) a great offensive line that could both plow and protect.
The first of those years, back in 2006, Rivers had 9 interceptions, and the Chargers finished 14-2, and that was his first as a starting QB. They lost to the Patriots in the playoffs and the coach was fired. The next year, he had 15 interceptions, yet got to the AFC championship game.
But Rivers had blown a knee (yes, against the Colts), LaDainian Tomlinson was out, and Antonio Gates was hobbled. So they lost one step away from the Super Bowl and never made it back. The very next year, LT averaged 3.8 yards per carry. The year after, he averaged 3.3 yards per tote, then ended his career with the New York Jets.
When preparation meets opportunity.
“So what?! Ancient history! ” you may say. Well, ask yourself, what elements do the Colts have in 2020?
1) a dynamic duo in running backs (who will catch more balls than before)
2) a good tandem of tight ends (who will catch more balls than before )
3) a big athletic receiver (who can catch jump balls and draw heat away from T.Y. Hilton)
4) great coaching, and of course
5) the Colts have one of the top 3 offensive lines in the whole league.
If you know something about Philip Rivers failing with THIS offensive line, this year, that Frank Reich, Nick Sirianni and Chris Ballard don’t know, please share it with them. Because, unlike us, their jobs are on the line.
Look, maybe Rivers is indeed past his prime. But, the Colts have given him every opportunity to succeed this season, with enough talent around him, especially on the offensive line. Rivers shouldn’t repeat history from 2019.