According to Pro Football Focus, new Indianapolis Colts veteran starting quarterback Philip Rivers checks down to his receivers at one of the NFL’s highest rates—at least over the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers:
Of course, there’s another name that should immediately jump out to Colts’ fans on this list as well: Andrew Luck (10th) at 8.2% [despite retiring before this past season].
As PFF points out in this article, there can sometimes be a negative connotation associated with checking down such as becoming ‘Charlie Checkdown’—meaning that quarterbacks take the safe, less potentially fruitful option instead of anticipating open throws, taking chances, and pushing the football downfield.
Rivers has typically been regarded as a wily, gunslinger throughout his 17-year career. One, who in his prime, took chances and threw one of the game’s best deep balls and to typically tall targets such as Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd downfield.
At all levels of the field, he’s shown no general reluctance to try to fit the football through tight windows—sometimes even to his detriment—over trusting his once big arm.
However, somewhat surprisingly, he’s also been a Pro Bowl caliber quarterback who’s found a lot of success checking down or throwing to his running backs such as LaDanian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles earlier in his career—and more recently, Danny Woodhead, Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler (the latter who caught a whopping 92 receptions for 993 receiving yards [10.8 ypr. avg.] and 8 touchdown receptions this past season).
Over the past two seasons, Rivers may have also simply checked down more out of necessity, as he played behind one of the league’s poorest pass blocking offensive lines—giving him less time to allow passing plays to develop.
When it comes to the Colts, their coaching staff already envisions natural 3rd down scat-back Nyheim Hines in a Danny Woodhead-like role in 2020—who should become one of the prime beneficiaries of Rivers’ addition this offseason.
However, the Colts’ entire backfield—including Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor, as well as tight ends such as Jack Doyle and Trey Burton should benefit as security blankets at times in the passing game in 2020:
Most passing TDs to RBs last season— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) June 11, 2020
1. Philip Rivers - 10
2. Aaron Rodgers - 8
3. Tom Brady - 6 pic.twitter.com/XqRJYiFyUw
From that perspective, the Rivers’ signing should be an interesting one for the Colts.
The Colts didn’t just draft big bodied downfield threat Michael Pittman Jr. (at 6’4”, 223 pounds) for Rivers to largely check it down next season—so expect to see him ‘air it out’ at times per usual (with T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell also being key deep threats) and in play-action situations—backed by a strong, power running game.
An elite Colts offensive line should also allow Rivers to hang in the pocket longer and have the propensity to push the ball downfield at higher rates than over the past two seasons.
That being said, don’t be surprised if Rivers utilizes his running backs and tight ends in the ‘checkdown game’ either—given his established affinity and high level of success with it previously. (It’s not necessarily a bad thing either [see: Andrew Luck’s inclusion]).
Quite frankly, it’s all on the table in Indianapolis.
Rivers even said on Wednesday, “Colts fans should expect a real versatile, dynamic (offensive) attack.”