The objective for a maiden voyage into studying all-22 coaches film on quarterback Philip Rivers was to get a read on what the Indianapolis Colts could be dealing with in 2020.
Granted, looking at 20 interceptions on NFL Game Pass has a negative connotation. If nothing else, perhaps a review of Rivers’ worst moments from his final season with the L.A. Chargers would support the narrative that the numbers aren’t all his fault and reaffirm Colts coach Frank Reich’s belief in straightening out the flaws.
The picks were broken down into three categories — bad decision/poor throw, desperation heave with nothing to lose, and not his fault or a great play by a defender. In the final analysis, 13 of his 20 interceptions fall into the first category, which means they were clearly on him. Three were considered desperation heaves at the end of losing efforts. The Chargers were usually losing late, so a few more late attempts could be written off as such, but the throws were still poor or bad decisions. Four were defined as not on him or great plays by defenders.
Should that make Colts fans feel better or worse?
What became obvious is that Rivers still has the nerve to try any throw regardless of the situation. He sacrificed points at times to go for big plays. Some balls were poorly underthrown. Others shouldn’t have been attempted because of tight coverage with multiple defenders. And there were a few he either air-mailed or just didn’t see a crossing defender.
That’s what Reich and his coaches will focus on, presumably in film study because it doesn’t appear the Colts will have extensive practice time because of league restrictions in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The reasons many are predicting Rivers to thrive with the Colts are still valid points. His pass protection should be better with a Colts offensive line that is among the league’s best and didn’t have a missed start in 2019. A seventh-ranked rushing game could also improve with the second-round selection of Jonathan Taylor added to returning leading rusher Marlon Mack and third-down, pass-catching specialist Nyheim Hines.
The theory is that offensive balance will take a lot of the pressure off Rivers so he won’t take so many chances and possibly repeat his 2019 tendency of attempting risky throws.
Here’s the breakdown of each interception.
Week 1 vs. Colts, one INT
Leading 24-16, fourth quarter, 8:39 remaining, fourth quarter, second and goal at Colts’ 7.
Rivers is intercepted in the end zone by Colts safety Malik Hooker, who makes a tremendous one-handed snag. Rivers appeared to have wide receiver Keenan Allen open for the touchdown, but Hooker broke on the pass quickly, much to the quarterback’s surprise. That’s more of a great play by Hooker than a bad throw. On the ensuing drive, the Colts drove to tie the game and force overtime. The Chargers ended up winning 30-24 in overtime.
Week 2 at Detroit, one INT
Trailing 13-10, fourth quarter, 1:10 remaining, third and 19 at Lions’ 28.
This is the kind of decision that Rivers has to be smart enough to avoid. The Chargers are in field-goal range to tie the game, and the smart play is to throw underneath to shorten the distance on that kick. But Rivers goes for it with a deep throw to Allen, and Lions cornerback Darius Slay intercepts in the end zone for a game-ending turnover.
Week 5 vs. Denver, two INTs
Trailing 14-0, first quarter, 2:33 remaining, second and five at Chargers’ 40.
Rivers steps up from pressure but the pass to Mike Williams sails high. The receiver has no chance and the Broncos intercept. That’s on Rivers.
Trailing 17-0, third quarter, 2:14 remaining, third and goal at the Broncos’ 2.
It’s getting late and Rivers needs to make a play with his team down 17. He’s looking for Williams on a short, quick throw into the end zone, but the quarterback fails to see the underneath defender and it’s an easy interception for the touchback. The Chargers lose, 20-13.
Week 6 vs. Pittsburgh, two INTs
Trailing 7-0, first quarter, 8:59 remaining, first and 10 at Chargers’ 44.
The short pass gets tipped at the line of scrimmage, which could absolve the quarterback. That said, it looked like Rivers’ intended target was covered, so it’s debatable whether that quick pass could have been completed.
Trailing 24-17, fourth quarter, 54 seconds remaining, second and 10 at Chargers’ 1.
It’s desperation time with the clock running out, so Rivers puts up a prayer to Williams. It’s badly overthrown and easily intercepted. Game over.
Week 8 at Chicago, one INT
No score, first quarter, 48 seconds remaining, third and 9 at Chargers’ 24.
Rivers is pressured, so his pass is hurried and ill-advised. The receiver isn’t really open and the Bears defender makes an easy break on the ball for the pick. The Bears get a field goal out of the turnover. The Chargers won, 17-16.
Week 10 at Oakland, three INTs
No score, first quarter, 12:05 remaining, second and 10 at the Raiders’ 33.
The first of three picks in a 26-24 road loss comes on just the seventh offensive play. Rivers overthrows an open Allen. That’s on the QB.
Trailing 3-0, first quarter, 6:14 remaining, first and 10 at Chargers’ 36.
He’s looking for tight end Hunter Henry and throws it to a spot. Problem is, Henry falls down on his break. The ball sails straight to the Raiders defender who returns it for a touchdown.
Trailing 26-24, fourth quarter, 27 seconds remaining, fourth and 10 at Chargers’ 30.
Once again, Rivers needs to some luck in a desperate moment and it doesn’t happen. He’s hit on the release as he looks for Allen deep on the right side. Although the initial look is Allen drawing single coverage, Rivers has to know there’s going to be a safety over top. But the game is on the line and requires taking a fourth-down chance. The ball sails too far and is picked. Game over.
Week 11 vs. Kansas City, four INTs
Leading 3-0, second quarter, 14:16 remaining, second and nine at Chiefs’ 25.
The first isn’t on him. He gets hit as he throws and the pass is caught by a defensive lineman. Poor pass protection failed the quarterback.
Leading 3-0, second quarter, 9:01 remaining, third and eight at Chargers’ 27.
No excusing this turnover. Rivers has a clean pocket, he steps up and puts something into the throw to Allen, but the quarterback never sees the defender crossing the middle. It’s an easy interception that sets up the Chiefs’ first TD.
Trailing 24-17, fourth quarter, 4:20 remaining, third and 10 at Chargers’ 17.
The Chargers need to make a play and Rivers has a man deep with one step on defenders. He rolls right and has clean sight when he steps into the deep ball, but it hangs up there too long and allows the coverage to close for the interception. This is the kind of throw that prompts critics to question the passer’s arm strength. If he has enough on that deep ball, it’s a big play.
Trailing 24-17, fourth quarter, 24 seconds remaining, second and 10 at Chiefs’ 14.
The game can still be tied with a touchdown, but Rivers makes another mistake. He’s looking for running back Austin Ekeler on a wheel route, but doesn’t air it out enough. The wobbly pass hangs and his target doesn’t have a chance on the underthrow. Game over.
Week 13 at Denver, one INT
Trailing 7-0, first quarter, 3:18 remaining, third and five at Chargers’ 30.
Another bad pass, and it’s a short throw to his running back, Ekeler. Problem is, Rivers throws it directly to a defensive lineman. That’s on the QB. Chargers lose, 30-23.
Week 15 vs. Minnesota, three INTs
Trailing 12-10, second quarter, 2:06 remaining, third and 17 at Chargers’ 29.
A three-interception game in an ugly 39-10 home loss to the Vikings starts off with this pick near the end of the first half. The throw into an area with several defenders is ill-advised, to say the least.
Trailing 39-10, fourth quarter, 7:20 remaining, second and seven at Vikings’ 46.
Again, not enough air in the high throw to Williams down the sideline. The underthrown pass makes for an easy interception. It could be classified as desperation, but Rivers never gives Williams a chance to make a play.
Trailing 39-10, fourth quarter, 1:59 remaining, first and 10 at Vikings’ 43.
The game is over, but Rivers tries one more prayer. He throws deep again to Williams, but the bomb hangs up there long enough for the Vikings to pick it off.
Week 17 at Kansas City, two INTs
Trailing 10-7, second quarter, 34 seconds remaining, second and three at Chiefs’ 26.
The Chargers are in field-goal range to tie the game before halftime, but Rivers takes another chance and throws a deep high ball that he hopes Williams can grab. But it’s underthrown and the Chiefs are in position for the pick.
Trailing 31-21, fourth quarter, 1:04 remaining, fourth and 17 at Chargers’ 32.
Rivers’ 20th interception should have been avoided. It could be considered a desperation heave, but pass sails into coverage with four Chiefs surrounding the intended target. Even in a lost season coming to an end, it’s easy to question this decision.
(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is email@example.com.)