Will Philip Rivers Deliver the Colts to the Promised Land?
Rivers took $25 million guaranteed to sign with Indianapolis
Over the next six weeks, we’ll be preparing for the kickoff of the 2020 NFL season on September 10 by attempting to answer the most important question facing all 32 of the league’s franchises in order of their 2019 finish, from worst to first. Today’s team: the Colts.
No. 20: Indianapolis Colts
2019 Record: 7-9
Points For: 361 – Points Against: 373
Projected 2020 Over/Under Win Total: 9
Philip Rivers is a man of many talents, many millions and many children — nine of them. He is not, however, a man with any Super Bowl appearances to his name, despite playing in the NFL for 16 seasons, 14 of them as the starting quarterback for the Chargers.
With nearly 5,000 completions, 60,000 passing yards and 400 touchdowns to his name, 38-year-old Rivers is now a member of the Indianapolis Colts, and will attempt to lead the franchise to their first Super Bowl berth since 2009, when Peyton Manning was in town.
“This was a unique opportunity … it was about an opportunity to get someone who we feel is an elite quarterback who can help our team,” Colts coach Frank Reich said when Rivers was signed in March.
The closest the Colts have come to getting back to the big game since ’09 was when Andrew Luck brought them to the AFC Championship game following the 2014 season, a matchup Indianapolis lost 45–7 to the Patriots. Despite the loss, the prospects for the team seemed bright thanks to the presence of Luck, the No. 1 pick of the 2012 draft and a player many thought would be the face of the franchise and perhaps the NFL for years.
But as we know now, that was not to be, as injuries took their toll on Luck and the Colts finished 8-8, 8-8 and 4-12 while he played sparingly over the next three seasons. The team returned to the playoffs in 2018, losing in the second round. Then, just before the 2019 regular season was set to kick off, Luck, who had been named the Comeback Player of the Year in 2018, abruptly retired.
Without the four-time Pro Bowler, the Colts were forced to resort to backup Jacoby Brissett, who helped guide the team to a strong 5-2 start to begin 2019. But that was a mirage, as Indianapolis then dropped seven of the next nine games to finish at 7-9, out of the playoffs once again.
Probably the most accomplished active NFL quarterback without a Super Bowl appearance, Rivers has a career record of 123-101 in the regular season and 5-6 in the playoffs.
He had a down year last season with the Chargers in his 16 starts (5-11 record, 23 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, 88.5 quarterback rating), but could be rejuvenated in Indy thanks to a talented offensive receiving corps that includes four-time Pro Bowler T.Y. Hilton, 2019 second-rounder Parris Campbell and 2020 second-rounder Michael Pittman Jr. That group is complemented by tight ends Jack Doyle and Trey Burton, as well as workhorse running back Marlon Mack and third-down back Nyheim Hines, a talented receiver out of the backfield.
Rivers will also have the advantage of playing behind a line the Colts, after allowing Luck to take a pounding during his career, have constantly been trying to enhance, most notably by adding guard Quenton Nelson out of Notre Dame in 2018. Since taking Nelson sixth overall, the Colts have averaged 120.3 rushing yards per game (ninth in the NFL in that span) while allowing just 50 sacks — six fewer sacks than the team allowed in 2017 alone. With an above-average blocking scheme and a decent complement of weapons, Rivers should have the time and experience to excel as he enters his 17th NFL season.
The $25-million question (because that’s how much guaranteed money the Colts gave the veteran quarterback) is whether Rivers still has some gas in the tank or the decline he showed last season was a harbinger of the wheels completely falling off. While either possibility is certainly feasible, early reports out of Colts camp are that Rivers has looked good and has been making it a priority to get to know his teammates on both sides of the ball.
“I feel like every time I talk to him, he is like a sixth-grade kid ready to play his first day of football,” left tackle Anthony Castonzo said of Rivers. “That guy loves football more than I think anybody I’ve ever been around.”
He’d better, as the Colts, while clearly talented, play in a division with two teams (the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans) that won playoff games last season and have made moves this offseason to improve their clubs (albeit questionable ones).
For the Colts to get back to the playoffs and maybe even advance, Rivers will need to cut down on his mistakes and make plays when he’s called upon for an offense that will make running the ball a priority.
If he can do that, it might be enough for the Colts to reverse their luck from last season and win the AFC South for the first time since 2014, the last time they had a legit shot at the Super Bowl.
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