INDIANAPOLIS – Remember when people actually wanted Philip Rivers benched earlier this season?
Unquestionably, Rivers has been a quarterback upgrade for the Colts in 2020, achieving the key metrics that Frank Reich felt the passing offense failed in last season.
Unless Rivers surprisingly decides to retire after this season, it’s looking harder and harder to see the Colts not extending this marriage for another season.
“I think Philip Rivers has been that great leader, that you can’t say enough about the professional, the competitor, the selfless player that he is, how the guys rally around him, young and old.” Owner Jim Irsay said earlier this week. “He’s just a special guy. He’s meant a lot to us this season.
“I could see us lined up the same way (in 2021)—you never know for sure—but with Philip and Jacoby (Brissett) as a 1-2 punch.”
That debate will materialize more in the coming months, because the current focus is on Rivers having the Colts in position to make the playoffs.
When Reich recapped the 2019 season, he was extremely upset in the performance of the passing offense.
Specially, Reich wanted an upgrade in the efficiency of the position, along with more chunk plays out of the air game.
Those jobs have been accomplished.
In 2019, the Colts finished the year completing 59.8 percent of their passes, and having just 6.5 yards per pass attempt.
In 2020, the Colts have completed 68.1 percent of their passes, with a yards per attempt of 7.7.
Here is how the passing offense of the Colts has improved from 2019 to 2020:
- 30th in passing offense (194.2 yards per game) vs. 8th in passing offense (263.7)
- 29th in completion percentage (59.8 percent) vs. 11th in completion percentage (67.3)
- 28th in yards per pass attempt (6.5 YPA) vs. 8th in YPA (7.6)
- 30th in pass plays of at least 20 yards (38 plays) vs. 6th in chunk plays (47)
Even when talking about protecting the ball, the Colts are actually taking care of it better this season when looking at the interception rate (1.95% in each of the last two season) and lost fumbles (6 QB fumbles lost in 2019 vs. 0 QB fumbles lost in 2020).
The Colts are scoring on a higher percentage of their drives, too. And Rivers is playing through an injury that possibly needs off-season surgery.
When asked to pinpoint one or two areas where Rivers has really shined, Reich finds it difficult to narrow it down.
“I think the thing that I respect the most is his accuracy and anticipation,” the head coach eventually says about Rivers. ”For instance, on the long touchdown pass (Sunday) to T.Y. (Hilton), we got pressure pretty quick, a guy comes off the edge – I don’t think there are very many guys that get that throw off. He makes a slight shuffle movement to the right because he feels that he has edge pressure, yet he has to wait for T.Y. to make the move on the safety to break down the middle and he can’t wait any longer, so he just has to let it go and get it to the right spot. He just has that knack.
“From a physical standpoint, it’s his accuracy and anticipation. They’re elite, they are as good as anybody. Then from the mental side of it, he is just a complete master of the game – the run game, pass game, screen game. The things that he sees out on the field before they happen in coverages and pressures. We’ll be watching the film and we’ll say, ‘How did he know that was going to happen?’ We’re sitting here as coaches watching the tape 50 times and he sees something or feels something out on the field that nobody else felt except for him. He is a special player like that.”
It was Reich’s conviction in Rivers that spurred the Colts to make the spring signing, which needed Irsay’s approval, too.
Back in early October, when Rivers did have some dips in performance, Reich’s belief in his quarterback never wavered.
“Early on in the year when there was one or two – as I’ve heard Philip refer to it – hiccups along the way for us as an offense, not for any one player, there was never a doubt in my mind,” Reich says. “There has never been a doubt in my mind of the kind of football Philip Rivers is capable of playing and would play this year and has played. I had that much confidence in him so it wasn’t a hard decision last year. Yeah, it’s you putting your neck on the line for somebody. But this is the kind of guy you want to put your neck on the line for.”
And Reich certainly stands by his thought that Rivers will play (perhaps again in Indianapolis?) past this season.
“The way he’s playing right now…we said it when we got him here, I said Philip is more than capable, if he wants, he has multiple years of good football in him,” Reich says.
“I really believe that.”