Philip Rivers Might Not Be the Upgrade the Colts Thought He Was

In abruptly losing quarterback Andrew Luck, the Colts had low expectations for the 2019 season. The team’s 5-2 start was a major overperformance. The rest of the season, unfortunately, exposed the weaknesses of Luck’s replacement, Jacoby Brissett. Indianapolis is in need of a major overhaul — and they turned to Philip Rivers.

But the quarterback’s 2019 performance wasn’t exactly the form that got him to the Pro Bowl so many times in the past. The 38-year-old is an unlikely bet for the Colts’ future. Is a steady yet declining veteran what the Colts need? Or is Brissett, a developing 27-year-old talent, capable of stepping up?

What the Colts want out of Philip Rivers

NFL player Philip Rivers
Philip Rivers runs off the field | Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Rivers is an eight time Pro Bowler. He won Comeback Player of the Year in 2013, when he led the NFL in completion percentage with 69.5 percent according to Bleacher Report. The Colts, aching from their “win now” plans being dashed by Luck’s exit, are hoping for a similar turnaround.

CBS Sports reports that NFL executives, sensing Rivers and the Chargers parting ways after a rough 2019, would be a good fit for the Colts. One Hall of Fame QB out, another in; it makes a certain kind of sense. Also, current Colts head coach Frank Reich happened to be Rivers’ QB coach during that 2013 turnaround. Clearly, the Indianapolis organization expects a reunion to turn things around.

How Rivers compared with Jacoby Brissett last season

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And turn things around they must. After that strong 5-2 start, the Athletic reports that injuries plaguing the defense, and a moribund offense, led to a dismal 7-2 finish. Rivers turned over the ball 23 times according to ESPN, which was the primary reason the Chargers decided to move on. Rivers might not be the one to save the Colts in 2020.

Brissett’s season was packed with difficulties, not all of them his fault. USA Today notes that, when things were in order around him, he looked solid. With 14 touchdown passes across just six games, he was headed in the right direction.

The back half, with injuries putting too much of the focus on Brissett’s mistakes, was a different story. He put up four touchdown passes while giving up three interceptions in the final eight games.

Is Rivers still the best option for 2020?

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With COVID-19 restrictions, Rivers hasn’t had the chance to meet with his teammates or coaches in person. This throws a wrench in the works of the Colts’ bet that his camaraderie with Reich would pay off. Still, Rivers’ familiarity with the Colts’ system should give him a big leg up. It’s possible he’ll go well beyond his dismal 2019.

On the other hand, Brissett’s 2019 season wasn’t much different from Rivers’. His first-half performance, especially as a notably younger player, inspires a bit more confidence. The IndyStar reports that a Week 9 MCL injury explains at least some of his decline. More importantly, they also report that most QBs come back strong after recovering. In light of this injury, it’s honestly difficult to put too much blame on Brissett.

Was it worth getting Rivers on board for 2020? The answer might be that the Colts feel they need a veteran in the starting QB role, at least for one more year. Reich insists Brissett is still the team’s future, according to Sports Illustrated. Rivers could pay off on the field, but it’s just as likely he contributes to the franchise on a deeper level — one that benefits Brissett, too.