Can the Colts actually compete with Philip Rivers leading the way?

The Indianapolis Colts are leading the AFC South now, but can they be a top team in the AFC with Philip Rivers under center?

Philip Rivers, Colts, Indianapolis Colts
NFL Analysis Network

When they signed Philip Rivers to a one-year, $25 million deal, the Indianapolis Colts put themselves in win-now mode for 2020. They were easy to see as a rising contender, with the capable veteran signal caller as something of a final piece.

The Colts beat the Tennessee Titans 34-17 on Thursday night to kick off Week 10. At 6-3 with a head-to-head win, Indianapolis is leading the AFC South.

The Colts will pay the Titans again in Week 12, then they’ll also face their AFC North rival Houston Texans twice in a three-week span (Week 13 and Week 15). So this stretch of schedule is going to be pivotal within the division, at minimum.

Can the Colts legitimately compete with Philip Rivers at QB?

Rivers has been on a good stretch lately, with a passer rating over 100 in three of the last four games. Over that span, he has thrown just two interceptions in 159 pass attempts. Not coincidentally, the Colts have won three of those four.

Pending the rest of Week 10’s results, here’s how the Colts rank offensively and defensively.

Total Yardage: #1 (290.4 yards per game)
Pass Defense: #3 (198.7 yards per game)
Rush Defense: #3 (91.8 yards per game)
Scoring: #3 (19.7 points per game)

Total Yardage: 17th (368.2 yards per game)
Scoring: Tied for 14 (26.9 points per game)
Rush Offense: 22nd (105.8 yards per game)
Pass Offense: 10th (262.4 yards per game)

So a middle of the pack offense has combined with one of the best defenses in the league thus far.

So what has been the difference in wins and losses, and what might hold the Colts down going forward?

Philip Rivers 2020 Win/Loss Splits

A quarterback’s performance is often indicative of a win or a loss, leaving aside compiling numbers when it doesn’t matter (we call that Kirk Cousins-ing nowadays).

But here are Rivers’ splits in the Colts wins and losses so far this year.

In Wins: 69.6 percent completion rate, 10 TD, 2 INT; 8.2 yards per attempt, 8.75 adjusted yards per attempt; 107.3 passer rating
In Losses: 67.2 percent completion rate, 1 TD, 5 INT; 6.8 yards per attempt, 5.15 adjusted yards per attempt; 72.2 passer rating

Rivers’ interception rate in the Colts’ wins? 1.04 percent. In the losses? 4.1 percent. Two of his three games with over 40 pass attempts were losses. Again pending the rest of Week 10, Indianapolis is tied for the sixth in the league in raw rushing attempts (253).

The Colts formula is clear. A good defense, run the ball heavily and Rivers not turning the ball over. That rush volume has come with little success (3.8 yards per carry; third-lowest in the league), as the Colts offensive line hasn’t been as dominant so far this year (25th in Adjusted Line Yards through Week 9, according to Football Outsiders). The line is protecting Rivers nicely though-tied for sixth-best in Adjusted Sack Rate (4.7 percent, through Week 9, according to Football Outsiders).

Between Week 11 against the Green Bay Packers and Week 16 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Colts have four winnable games.

vs. TitansWeek 12
at Texans-Week 13
at Raiders-Week 14
vs. Texans
Week 15

Assuming a loss to Green Bay, 10-4 or 9-5 is possible for the Colts heading into that game against the Steelers. Week 17 brings a softer matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Colts lost to them back in Week 1. That said, there’s a good chance the Jaguars are completely checked out in the season finale.

So let’s say the Colts finish 11-5 and win the AFC South. That would give them at least one home playoff game. There is no team that looks dominant in the AFC, as the Steelers have won narrowly a fair amount on their way to 8-0 right now. So why couldn’t the Colts make a run? Their chances will ebb and flow, as I strain for a good analogy, on the whims of a River(s).

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