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The Lowdown: Colts QB Philip Rivers Sluggish on Sunday; Tale of Two Halves for Indy Defense

NFL: OCT 11 Colts at Browns Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Indianapolis Colts fell on the road to the Cleveland Browns 32-23 on Sunday, as it took an entire half for the defense to begin to look like themselves—and the offense just couldn’t overcome veteran quarterback Philip Rivers’ silly second half mistakes and generate enough touchdowns.

Here are some of the top takeaways from Sunday:

  • The Colts are now 3-2—not great, but very much still in the thick of things in the AFC playoff race. The Colts trail the Titans (3-0) in the AFC South, whose game against the Buffalo Bills was postponed until Tuesday. The Colts had won three straight games, but after Sunday’s loss, it’s now time to start a new team winning streak.
  • In the NFL, a team is never as good as it thinks after a win, and never as bad following a loss. This is a 16 game NFL schedule. A marathon, not a sprint, and sometimes, it’s easy to forget that because each loss on Sunday can really sting. This Sunday was no exception.
  • The defense: It was a tale of two halves for the Colts vaunted defense, which was ranked #1 in the NFL following the first four weeks of 2020. The Colts defense surrendered 20 points in the first half, but only 3 points in the second half, as Rivers accounted for the pick 6 and the safety after an intentional grounding call in his own end zone. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was shredding the Colts secondary before halftime (completing 67.9% of his passes for 228 passing yards and two touchdowns) as the Indy front four couldn’t generate consistent pass pressure, and there were a few blown zone coverage assignments on the backend. After one half, there were neither punts nor turnovers forced by the Colts defense—as the Browns scored all four of their possessions (2 TD’s, 2 FG’s). However, either head coach Frank Reich made a great halftime speech or the red light went on, because the Colts defense was an entirely different unit in the second half—forcing two interceptions and two punts respectively, playing inspired football.
  • Speaking of those two interceptions, the culprits, Colts linebackers—namely Anthony Walker and Bobby Okereke, were excellent in All-Pro Darius Leonard’s absence in both coverage and against the run, making plays all over the field on Sunday. The entire 2nd level of the Colts defense is one of the special components of their staunch unit—especially when Leonard is healthy and back on the field.
  • Rookie Isaiah Rodgers, what a play. When the Colts were on life support following a 47 yard pick 6 by Philip Rivers and trailing by three scores early in the third quarter, 27-10, Rodgers gave the Colts a much needed shot in the arm—with a 101 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The rookie 6th round pick was a standout special teams returnman at UMass with an impressive highlight reel for the Minutemen of his own, but the Colts saw it firsthand on the field on Sunday.
  • Philip Rivers had a lousy afternoon. Between the two interceptions and the safety in the second half, there was an awful lot here not to like. Rivers showed his age (38) and his lack of mobility to escape the pocket, but it’s not time to bury him yet. He is still an upgrade to his predecessor, Jacoby Brissett, and with a healthy Anthony Castonzo eventually back, the Colts offensive line won’t be as bad as it was Sunday in pass protection (as replacement left tackle Le’Raven Clark had his hands full with All-Pro pass rusher Myles Garrett all afternoon). The Colts also won’t hopefully be down two scores routinely in future contests and consequently, completely abandon the running game in the process (Jonathan Taylor had a mere 12 carries on Sunday). Rivers can’t make bonehead throws and decisions like that going forward because the Colts aren’t a big play/prolific scoring offense right now that can mitigate his mistakes and put up points in a hurry.
  • In addition to Rivers’ poor play, part of the reason the Colts offense has struggled in recent weeks is that the offensive line hasn’t been particularly strong overall [and that includes run blocking]. However, the offense also misses weapons like Parris Campbell (speed) and Michael Pittman Jr. (size)—who were supposed to be dynamic playmakers. When looking at the current receiving corps, it largely resembles last year’s group that struggled to generate big plays—as there’s no elite deep speed (beyond T.Y. Hilton, who’s having a quiet year) and size to really stretch the field downfield. When coupling that with Rivers’ complete inability to make plays outside the pocket (i.e., he’s a living statue), and the Colts offense often lacks the natural ability to be dynamic. That not only limits the big play potential of the Colts passing game for Rivers, but it also allows defenses to commit more defenders into the box to stop the running game. The Colts absolutely need Rivers to be better going forward and more mistake-free, but the supporting cast also has to be stronger because the 17-year veteran can’t carry the offense. A little more innovation (and efficiency) in red zone packages would also help and go a long way—where the Colts continue to consistently kick field goals, instead of routinely scoring 7’s—as Indy is only scoring TD’s on 42.11% of its red zone opportunities, 29th worst in the NFL.