Colts Coach Frank Reich Convinced Philip Rivers Still An Elite QB
INDIANAPOLIS — Head coach Frank Reich assured that the Indianapolis Colts extensively vetted every free-agent quarterback, including Tom Brady, before deciding to sign Philip Rivers.
So began Reich’s Tuesday sales pitch about the opportunity to add Rivers during a video teleconference.
Reich, offensive coordinator Nick Siriani and tight ends coach Jason Michael know Rivers well from their days in San Diego, but they still reviewed two years of game tape. Reich came away convinced that Rivers is still an elite quarterback, the arm strength hasn’t diminished at 38 and the mind is still sharp to make quick passing decisions.
“This was a crazy, unique opportunity,” Reich said. “Philip, who I believe is a future Hall of Fame quarterback, I think whatever he does here in the next year or two whatever that is will contribute to that career.
“(We) went back and looked at all of his film from the last two years and didn’t see any physical drop-off in his play. This was a unique opportunity and it wasn’t so much about what Jacoby (Brissett) wasn’t doing, it was about an opportunity to get someone who we feel is an elite quarterback who can help our team.”
Reich, of course, is going to be positive about his players. Before quarterback Andrew Luck retired last August, the coach gushed about Brissett, saying he was “a top-20 quarterback.” But Brissett struggled as the Colts lost seven of their last nine games to finish 7-9 last season.
Brissett routinely failed to spot open receivers, was often indecisive when throwing and didn’t throw the ball down the field enough. These are all distinct characteristics that Rivers has been known for in passing for 59,271 yards in 16 NFL seasons.
Rivers' fearlessness for taking chances can also be an issue. He had 20 interceptions last season, a number Reich conceded must be reduced.
While the company line is that the Colts still love Brissett, who would be an expensive backup at $21.4 million next season, they evidently loved Rivers more. A team doesn’t make a change unless it’s necessary, regardless of how it’s explained.
Why didn’t they go with Brady, the future Hall of Famer with six Super Bowl rings? Reich gushed about how Brady still has elite-level talent, too, but the Colts thought Rivers was the better fit.
That was likely a financial decision. Brady received $50 million guaranteed with no-trade and no-franchise-tag stipulations in his two-year contract with Tampa Bay. Rivers, who would like to play beyond 2020, cost $25 million for what amounts to a one-year trial.
“We know Philip, what he’s good at,” Reich said. “Philip has a really good knack. He gets the ball out quick when you look at all the stats on how long it takes him to get the ball out of his hand (and) all these analytics stuff that we have. You know he’s always at the top of that list, but yet he also has a unique way of making plays down the field and he’s done that his whole career. All the stats point to it. I have seen it first-hand. So we just need to find the best ways to utilize that.
“Most people don’t think about Philip being a good (run-pass-option) RPO guy. I think there are aspects of the RPO game that Philip will be really good at. There is part of the RPO game where the quarterback has the run-option, but there is a lot of the RPO game that it’s just quick decisions by the quarterback and being able to throw at every arm angle because you’re leaving unblocked defenders. So you’re leaving a defensive lineman unblocked for instance and now you’re asking the quarterback to read a second-level player and then navigate the throw and Philip is really good at that. So we really think he’ll excel at that as well. Then just the short rhythm passing game along with the down the field stuff are things that we’ll accentuate with him.”
The Colts have missed the playoffs in four of the past five years, so general manager Chris Ballard couldn’t stand pat with Brissett, although Reich said the team was prepared to do so before Rivers became available.
The fact that Rivers is familiar with roughly 85 percent of the Colts playbook is especially important when considering how NFL teams must adjust to an offseason where facilities are closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Communication has to be established through video teleconferences and other online means and teams might not actually practice together until training camp opens in late July.
Offseason training activities are supposed to begin April 20th, but that seems unlikely considering Indiana like most states is under a stay-at-home guideline. All public events through April have been canceled or postponed.
Rivers said in his recent teleconference that his goal is to hit the ground running, regardless of the circumstances, when the Colts start practicing.
“When I tell you he is elite intellectually, he’s just at the top,” Reich said. “There’s a rare group of guys in the football world who I would put in that category. Not everybody gets those gifts. He has them and so that’ll be to his advantage and to our advantage. As far as teaching him more, when we are able to send him stuff and get him materials, he’ll pick it up quickly. As soon as we are able to communicate with him where we can talk football and really get into teaching mode, it won’t take long.”