Has Philip Rivers been playing well or not? The Colts lost a shocker in Week 1 and Rivers had a couple of ugly throws, so he must be playing badly! Not so fast. Rivers has been an effective quarterback for the Colts and has been running the offense very well (and with a lot of comfort) over the first two games.
This has come without a real offseason and many new pieces. The points below should help showcase why Philip Rivers has been a good quarterback for the Colts and has helped the team tremendously.
Great accuracy; he hasn’t thrown many “interceptable” passes
Rivers has a 77.5% completion percentage, but that doesn’t always tell the full story. He ranks in 7th in the NFL in on target throw percentage. That means that when he releases the ball, his passes will hit his intended receiver 81.7% of the time. While the number looks good, it all depends on what type of passes he throws, if he only throw 2 yard check downs then it’s not impressive. If he was throwing 50 yard bombs every time, that’d be crazy impressive. Let’s use his passing charts to get more context.
Every NFL starting quarterback should be hitting at least 88% of their throws within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, so we’ll ignore those throws and only look at throws that traveled beyond 5 yards in the air.
On passes that traveled beyond 5 yards in the air, he went 27/43 (62.3%) with two interceptions.
On passes that traveled beyond 10 yards in the air, he went 16/28 (57.1%) with two interceptions.
On passes that traveled beyond 20 yards in the air, he went 3/7 (42.9%) with no interceptions.
On passes that traveled within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage and behind the line of scrimmage, he has gone 47/54 (87%) with two touchdowns and 3 interceptions.
Let’s look at his three interceptions:
Both of the interceptions in the Jaguars game were poor throws. The first one to Henderson was the worst of the two considering he forced the throw into double coverage and didn’t really step properly into the throw either.
The last interception, which can be seen starting at 2:10 of the highlight video, was a well thrown pass that to an open receiver. Alie-Cox did not do a good job of shielding off the defender (Harrison Smith), who was able to poke his hand on the ball which was deflected and intercepted. As a quarterback, Rivers cannot blame himself for that throw.
Of his three interceptions, Rivers is to blame on two of them.
After doing an analysis of each throw from his first two games, I charted Rivers throwing only 2 “interceptable” passes (defined as passes that have at least a decent likelihood of being intercepted) and both were actually intercepted. He is actually quite safe with the football and places the ball away from defensive backs. He does miss a few throws to the outside of the field, but a couple can be blamed on poor communication/chemistry with the receiver.
High yards and air yards per attempt number
Rivers averages 8.1 yards per attempt and 6.8 air yards per attempt. The 8.1 yards per attempt figure puts him in the top 10 and the 6.8 yards per attempt figure is 23rd best in the NFL. Why such the (positive) disparity? It’s usually a combination good ball placement from the quarterback and good yards after catch ability from the receivers. The ball needs to be put in a good place so that the receivers stay in stride and/or are set up to make a play with the ball in their hands. That requires accuracy from the quarterback and playmaking from the receiver.
So while Rivers might be making a lot of short passes, the reality is they are moving the ball in good chunks which is also a testament to good coaching. The yards per attempt average is what’s most important and we saw a similar trend with Tom Brady and the Patriots for years; they wouldn’t pass the ball far, but they would pick up a lot of yards after the catch based on play design, ball placement and quick receivers who can make plays.
Doesn’t take sacks
Rivers has taken only two sacks through two games. Only Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees have taken less sacks through two full games. Rivers doesn’t lose yards or hurt the offense in that regard. His sack percentage of 2.7% is 4th best in the NFL of all quarterbacks who played two full games.
This positive should be split between Rivers and the offensive line. Rivers is only pressured on 14.9% of his drop-backs, which ranks as one of the lowest in the NFL. Rivers, on the other-hand, is getting rid of the ball in 2.35 seconds (on average), which is the second fastest in the NFL.
The combination of strong offensive line play and quick releases will help the Colts reduce negative plays, especially sacks.
These numbers two weeks into a season with almost no offseason prep
The one reason that isn’t quantifiable: he didn’t have any warm up in the preseason. There were no preseason games, they were no joint-practices, lots of time off and not as much practice in general. Rivers knew some of the offense beforehand, but that doesn’t mean he can just jump into an offense and connect with 10 new players and many more backups.
The gelling of the offense takes time and we often see teams with new offensive pieces struggle because of poor chemistry. The 2019 Browns were a top example of that; they had a 1st overall pick at quarterback, one of the best running duos in the league, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and David Njoku as the three top passing options and a top 15 offensive line. Despite all the talent and pieces, the team had one of the worst 8 offenses in the NFL.
Chemistry is what fuels teams. A quarterback in his first year with a team hasn’t taken a team to the Super Bowl in that same season since Jake Delhomme in 2003. That stat shows how hard it is for a quarterback to win in his first season with the team, and they’ve had training camps and preseason to work with. Take that away and it’s a whole different ballgame. The more reps Rivers gets, the better he’ll become.
Yards to Point Translation
Philip Rivers (2020)
573 yards | 16.6 yards per point
Responsible for 34.5 points through two games (17.25 per game)
Jacoby Brissett (2019)
3011 yards | 14.5 yards per point
Responsible for 207 points through 15 games (13.84 per game)
Rivers is scoring 25% more than Brissett’s numbers. This stat, however, doesn’t reflect the fact that interceptions are negative plays and turnovers in general are the most brutal outcomes for offenses. Rivers is on track for more interceptions than Brissett, which hurts Rivers’ argument a bit. Nevertheless, Rivers is responsible for more points and has clearly been a step up over Brissett just based on his first two games.
Rivers has a very nice matchup this week against the weak Jets secondary so his style of game should be suited nicely. If he continues to play smart football where he finds the right receiver, gets rid of the ball quickly and moves the ball effectively, then the Colts will definitely have a top 12 offense, especially with their strong offensive line and running game.
So, if someone tells you Rivers is playing poorly, you can direct them to this article that shows that he’s been otherwise very good with the exception of two bad interceptions and some missed passes.