How does the Colts offense rank coming out of Q3? To the report card!
The Indianapolis Colts’ offense lurched through the third quarter of the season with a win-loss record of 3-1, and there are valid concerns about the entire team’s 2020 season destiny. Will they graduate to the playoffs, and if they do, will they excel or exit early?
The Colts, of course, would not have reached that 3-1 mark without a remarkable defense and special teams performance. Without breaks from the other two phases of the game, the Colts would be no better than 2-2, and they were plain lucky to beat Deshaun Watson and the Texans on Dec. 3. Here’s an evaluation of each part of the offense from just the last four games (Titans W, Green Bay W, Titans L, Texans W). You decide if the glass is half full or half empty. Or both.
Penalties get their own paragraph, because the cost of penalties against the offense can not be over-emphasized [Also true for Special Teams, which earned an F this week.]. Penalties for holding became a pandemic this quarter, at one point putting the team at third and 30 for three consecutive flags. That takes us to the…
Offensive Line: B-
Injuries & COVID quarantines were a big part of the blowout loss against the division rival Tennessee Titans, and partly explain the too-close win against the toothless Texans. But there are no excuses for the run game, a weakness all season long — and one that’s getting worse.
Wide Receivers: B-
TY Hilton has gone from C- for the first 10 games to an A- the last two games. Michael Pittman looked at times like he was making a big jump forward, but his numbers this quarter still form the word “Rookie”.
Parris Campbell has almost become an afterthought, and Marcus Johnson and Dezmon Patmon have faded in this race since the halfway mark. RB Nyheim Hines is an honorary wide receiver for his pass-catching, but has been held in check for the last two games.
Tight Ends: A
Jack Doyle, Trey Burton and Mo Alie-Cox may be the best pass catching trio in the AFC. And all of them can block, so the opponent cannot deduce who is in for catching only, or blocking only.
Running Backs: C+
We get these flashes of power, and then the screen goes black. This you know. The Colts have not, not, NOT replaced the Marlon Mack Truck. After getting smothered by the Titans in the crucial second matchup, the run game’s problems were set in even higher relief by the first game against the Texans.
Jonathan Taylor showed up, averaged seven yards a carry, and everyone else decided not to participate in the game. Jordan Wilkins took forever to hit the disappearing gaps — by forever, I mean a half-second too slow to get to the second level. Nyheim Hines is a specialty back. Sending him up the middle at the goal line shows the coaches do not trust their bigger backs.
For some Colts fans and media members that jump on every misplay by Philip Rivers to dump vitriol on his abilities (and by association on the judgment of the general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich): You might want to look at the numbers.
In the last game against the Texans, Rivers was harassed by J.J. Watt and the rest of Houston’s defensive line, and Houston took away the long ball. But the result was two passing touchdowns, no interceptions and a quarterback rating of 110. His completion percentage was way up there.
At nine picks to date, Rivers has fewer interceptions than Russell Wilson, Tom Brady, Jared Goff, Kirk Cousins and other starters. At this rate, the old gunslinger will have 12 on the year (what a good O-line will do for a quarterback’s play). That’s a little more than half of last season’s total. This excellent performance breaks an invented narrative from certain media and fans that Rivers is fatally flawed by turnovers.
This quarter, Rivers’ TD to INT ratio was seven TDs to three INTs, which equals just 2.33. That’s a good rating for Rivers historically. His career ratio is 2.0, better than Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Montana and other elite QBs. In fact, Rivers’ 2.33 TD/INT rating this quarter would put him in the top 10 all-time for TD/INT ratio. Big Daddy Rivers’ passer rating, after being depressed by two early bad games, has also been creeping up (like 110 against the Texans), and now sits at 96.
Philip Rivers’ passer rating through 12 games with Indy is better than seven of his last nine seasons.
One wonders what Rivers’ Chargers’ career and numbers would’ve looked like with an offensive line as good as he enjoys with the 2020 Colts. Rivers did have an elite O-line one year, with Marcus McNeil, Kris Dielman, Nick Harding and company. The Chargers went 14-2, then lost in the playoffs when LaDainian Tomlinson was sidelined with injury and Rivers played on one knee. Then the owners (Spanos Famiglia) fired the head coach, Marty Schottenheimer…but I’m not bitter.
It is now possible that Rivers’ passer rating may break 100 by season’s end.
In this fourth quarter of the 2020 regular season, Rivers will face a very familiar opponent in the Raiders. Rivers’ 18 wins against the Raiders (18-11) are more than any other quarterback in history (John Elway is a distant second with 13). The Pittsburgh Steelers should be the stiffest test this season, but the Jaguars and Texans are expected (and necessary) wins.
One can disregard an old gunslinger, but one should consider, how does an old gunslinger survive long enough to become old?
In December, Phil plays Santa Claus.
Here’s the biggest statistical reason to look forward to Philip River’s 2020 Q4: Historically, he is Mr. December. Even with many non-playoff seasons for the Chargers, Rivers has gone 39-19 in December, a 67% win record.