Colts QB Philip Rivers throws under pressure.
CLEVELAND, OHIO - OCTOBER 11: Philip Rivers #17 of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass while being hit by Olivier Vernon #54 of the Cleveland Browns in the second quarter at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 11, 2020 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

5 Things Learned: Philip Rivers Struggles As Colts Lose To Browns

INDIANAPOLIS – So that’s what happens when the Colts face a legit offense.

The Colts defense was outclassed early on Sunday, and Philip Rivers looked like the furthest thing from a $25 million quarterback, as the Browns beat Frank Reich’s squad, 32-23, in Cleveland.

What was learned from the Colts (3-2) seeing their three-game win streak end?

FIVE THINGS LEARNED

1. Terrible Philip Rivers: That better be rock bottom play from Philip Rivers this season. The $25 million quarterback was horrible on Sunday, with some beyond costly mistakes and more throws that should have people concerned about the Colts QB’s ability to throw outside the numbers. For the game, Rivers was 21-of-33 for 243 yards and 2 interception. That doesn’t include a head scratching decision (and play call) as he attempted to throw a ball away from his own end zone early in the fourth quarter that resulted in a safety. He also had a brutal pick six in the third quarter and a fourth-quarter INT, which was very reminiscent of what we saw from him last year in Los Angeles. We’ve now seen it twice this season: when you put Rivers into obvious passing situations and/or down in games, you are going to get a QB prone to make fatal errors. The $25 million price stops there. Rivers had a trio of those mistakes on Sunday. The veteran QB makes way too much money to look like a QB who put up that performance against a Browns defense that had been struggling in the secondary.

2. Pretender Or Contender? The Colts will have many more of these ‘barometer’ games throughout 2020, but Sunday was the first true one in my mind. They looked far more like a pretender than a contender against a team also likely in the mix for one of those three AFC Wild Card spots. This was the first potent offense the Colts have faced this year and the Indy defense was torn right apart. Offensively, with the run game again sluggish, the Colts were forced to throw a whole lot more than they would like, and that part of the game was exposed. And some of this unquestionably falls on the shoulders of Frank Reich. His second-quarter challenge of an Odell Beckham completion was an abysmal decision (costing the Colts a precious timeout and giving them no challenges the rest of the game). And his call of a play-action pass with the Colts in their own end zone was a definite error he admitted afterwards. Record wise, the Colts are still in a fine position to make a run at a playoff berth. A win next week over the Bengals should have the Colts at 4-2 when their bye week comes, and the Lions will be up after the bye. It’s October 11th, and there’s plenty of football for the Colts (and their head coach) to prove themselves against January-like teams over the final 12 weeks of the season. But on this Sunday, the Colts did not measure up.

3. Absent Pass Rush: Judging by my Twitter mentions, it seems many forgot what happened in Sunday’s first half. The Colts defense was terrible. Cleveland had 4 drives in the first half. All four ended with points. All four lasted at least 9 plays, all driving at least 60 yards and all having at least 3 first downs. It was constant moving up and down the field for the Browns, even though the Colts were again forcing them to face long fields. The biggest reason why? An absent pass rush. While the Colts were doing great against the vaunted Browns rushing attack, Cleveland had no issues through the air. The Colts didn’t sniff Baker Mayfield with their typical 4-man rush look. Once they finally used a little more pressure, it was too late, with the Browns already putting up 20 points in the first two quarters. It was too quiet of an afternoon from DeForest Buckner early on, and that was with the Browns having to turn to a backup guard during the middle of the game. While the rush unit was the main issue, the Colts also had some breakdowns on the back end that looked much more like the group we saw in Week 1.

4. Too Much On The Plate Of Philip Rivers: As was stated above, Philip Rivers had an awful performance on Sunday. But the Colts still put their quarterback into a situation that they know how is going to turn out more often than not. At the age of 39, Rivers is not a quarterback who is capable of leading multi-score comebacks on a routine basis, especially without some key personnel. You put him down on the scoreboard, and behind the chains into obvious passing situations, and you’re going to get a turnover prone QB with questionable arm strength outside the numbers. Frank Reich would disagree at such a statement, but Rivers’ biggest mistakes this season have come when trying to hit a timing route on a longer-traveling ball near the sideline. If Rivers can lean on a more productive run game and the defense offers a little more resistance, he can play winning football and give you some bigger plays. But right now, the Colts aren’t getting it done enough on the ground. The Colts thought Rivers would have a better chance to succeed this season because they could offer what the Chargers could not last year. Sunday was not that at all (with the QB doing very little for his own cause, either).

5. Isaiah Rodgers Provides Spark: Chris Ballard hinted this week at this Day 3 pick providing a spark very soon. That happened on Sunday with Rodgers returning a kick 101 yards for a touchdown. The kick return came at a critical time, as the Colts were down 17 points following a pick six by Philip Rivers. This return simply wasn’t Rodgers finding one crease and showing off his 4.2 40-yard dash speed. It was a very-well blocked return (with fellow return man Ashton Dulin helping out down the field), with Rodgers making some nice subtle cuts to spring it. Without Rodgers, this game could have gotten ugly in the final quarter. But the rookie gave the Colts some life. It’s these plays that the Colts were really attracted to during the draft process, taking him late in Round Six. It looks like Rodgers is the new kick returner, with Nyheim Hines still on punt return duty.

QUICK HITTERS

Injury Report: The Colts had the following players inactive on Sunday: LT-Anthony Castonzo (ribs), LB-Darius Leonard (groin), QB-Jacob Eason, WR-Dezmon Patmon, DT-Eli Anoku, DE-Ron’Dell Carter, TE-Noah Togiai. S-Julian Blackmon (groin) left the game in the second quarter but did return.

Key Stat: Tight ends Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox were targeted just 3 times and didn’t record a catch on Sunday.

What’s Next: The Colts (3-2) will return home in Week Six for their final game before a bye. They will host Joe Burrow and the Bengals (1-3-1) at 1:00 PM.

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