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What to Expect from Philip Rivers With the Colts in 2021

Philip Rivers has long been in pursuit of a Super Bowl appearance, but with his move to Indianapolis, he appears closer than he’s ever been. The Indianapolis Colts signed 38 year old Philip Rivers to a one year deal in hopes that he’ll take this above-average roster on a deep playoff run.

Last season, while the Colts were navigating life after Andrew Luck, they compiled an uninspiring 7-9 record which prompted the organization to look for a spark. While Rivers may not be the greatest quarterback at 38 years old, he will immediately bring a competitive spark to the field that Jacoby Brissett did not.

At first glance, the idea of Rivers on the Colts immediately screams playoffs, but there are still a ton of changes that the Colts will undergo with a new quarterback at the helm.

Philip Rivers Loves His Running Backs

One of the biggest changes that will come to the Colts offense is the use of running backs in the passing game. Philip Rivers is notorious for having effective pass catching backs such as Darren Sproles, Danny Woodhead, and Austin Ekeler. Over the past six seasons, Philip Rivers has targeted his running backs on 24% of his throws, which is good for second most in the NFL.

In 2019, the Colts two starters, Jacoby Brissett and Brian Hoyer, targeted their running backs on a measly 13% of their throws, so this year will present a major chance for their running backs. Last season Colts running backs only saw 65 targets, but with Rivers averaging 140 passes to his RB’s over the past 5 seasons, expect that number to shoot up to at least 100. 

Nyheim Hines will have a Breakout Season

The Colts 1-2 punch of Marlon Mack and rookie Jonathan Taylor aren’t seen as reliable receivers, so that leaves us with third year running back Nyheim Hines. Most of Hines’s effectiveness comes from his ability as a pass catcher, 107 receptions in two seasons, which is why head coach Frank Reich is expecting a big season for him,

“Nyheim will be very integrated into the game plan. I wouldn’t anticipate he’s going to play as many snaps as Marlon or Jonathan, but there’s still enough snaps for him to be very, very productive this year.”

I’m a huge fantasy football guy, and if Hines is sitting in the late rounds of a PPR league, I’m snatching him up without thinking twice. The bottom line is that the Colts running backs will be a huge part of this passing offense, with Nyheim Hines being the biggest beneficiary. 

Rivers Injects Excitement Into the Passing Game

Since we’re on the topic of the passing game, Colts head coach Frank Reich, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, and tight ends coach Jason Michael have all worked with Rivers before with the Chargers. This familiarity will help minimize the growing pains that normally come from a new quarterback, especially with the likelihood of a shortened off-season.

As for Rivers, he had a talented supporting cast with the Chargers, but has a group of talented players around him now as well. Rivers had a tendency to trust Mike Williams and Keenan Allen to win 50-50 balls down the field, so that responsibility now belongs to 6’4 rookie Michael Pittman Jr who will be able to prove why he was a second round pick.

Last season, Philip Rivers threw the 5th most deep balls in the NFL so T.Y. Hilton, the Colts best deep threat, will see a major up-tick in deep targets. Rivers has always had reliable, big bodied tight ends such as Ladarius Green, Hunter Henry, and Antonio Gates, so free agent acquisition Trey Burton and Jack Doyle will play a big role in winning the middle of the field.

The biggest wildcard in the passing game is by far Parris Campbell. Campbell was injured for most of his rookie season, but with a clean bill of health, he is going to thrive as their slot receiver because of the explosiveness he brings to this offense. 

All in all, last year’s passing game ranked 30th in the league partly due to the conservative playstyle of Jacoby Brissett, but Philip Rivers will enable their offense to become far more exciting.

“Run The Damn Ball”

In 2019, the Colts had a saying that encapsulated their entire year, “run the damn ball”, and all signs are pointing to them doubling down on that this season. The Colts are returning the 3rd best offensive line from last season (PFF), two efficient run-blocking tight ends, and added Jonathan Taylor to their running back room.

Last year they finished the season with the 5th most rushing attempts and the 7th most rushing yards. Coach Reich was happy with the Colts improvement in the running game, but has acknowledged that the addition of Taylor will allow for Mack to be more rested, which in turn results in a more productive rushing attack.

Even with Philip Rivers expected to lead a more flashy passing game, they’re primed for another Top-5 finish in total rushing attempts, and an improvement in touchdown production due to a more efficient offense in general. 

Is Rivers Too Turnover-Prone???

Along with the emphasis on the run-game, Rivers is going to be ecstatic that he’s leaving the league’s 29th ranked offensive line for the league’s 3rd best. Since 2014, he has not had an offensive line rank above 26th in the league, so he’ll be far more comfortable in the pocket with the Colts.

Last season Rivers threw 20 interceptions, which immediately makes Colts fans cringe, and rightfully so, but there was certainly a huge reason for these turnovers, his offensive line. After watching all 20 of his interceptions, there were AT MOST 11 that were entirely on him, but the rest was due to a putrid line.

Time and time again defenders pressured Rivers within two seconds of the snap, which resulted in many rushed throws and interceptions. Rivers had the league’s 4th lowest time to throw in the pocket (2.63 seconds), while Jacoby Brissett had the 2nd most (2.93 seconds).  While this may not seem like a huge difference, it’ll mean the world for Rivers as he’ll be afforded extra time to make more accurate passes deep down the field. 

So what should we expect from Philip Rivers with the Colts in 2021? We should expect Rivers to inject more aggressiveness into the passing game. T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell will get far more opportunities to showcase their explosiveness, and Michael Pittman Jr. will become Rivers’s target on 50/50 balls.

Rivers will use tight ends Trey Burton and Jack Doyle as security blankets as well as targeting Nyheim Hines on checkdowns. Rivers will continue to be one of the league’s more accurate passers in the 0-10 yard range and his turnover rate should decrease by default of his dominant offensive line.

All you need to know is that Philip Rivers will immediately step right in and make this Colts offense a more efficient and dangerous unit that will compete for a division title.

For any questions, comments, or discussions, you can follow me on Twitter @danielalameda11


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