INDIANAPOLIS – Frank Reich has spent three seasons watching every move that Philip Rivers made.
I watched each play more than once. The Indianapolis Colts coach assisted Rivers in training, watched him at games, then broke the tape and passed it again with Rivers, absorbing every shot, every audible, every split second decision.
Reich knows the strengths, the weaknesses, everything the new Colts quarterback has been able to do on a football field.
"Philip, I believe, is a future Hall of Fame quarterback," said Reich.
For all these reasons, when it became clear that Rivers would be available on the open market this season, it didn’t take long for Reich and his offensive coordinator, Nick Sirianni – who spent five seasons watching every move by Rivers – to start dreaming. bringing Rivers back on the attack.
But it has been four years since Reich trained him, two for Sirianni.
"We think this guy is elite, okay," recalls Reich telling Sirianni and coach Jason Michael, another former Chargers coach. “Is he the right fit? Does he still have everything in the tank?
Reich had to put his affinity for Rivers, the personal relationship they built during those three years in San Diego, and enough time to take a cold and critical look, just like he did with Tom Brady, Nick Foles and everyone else. defenders. who can be available this offseason. For the first time since he was in San Diego, Reich came back and saw all the moves Rivers made again, all the moves and decisions he made in the past two seasons with the Chargers.
The goal was to find the warts. See if Reich believed some of the things people say about Rivers since the Chargers' season ended in disappointment. Or, it was the mental ability, the bright, quick mind that Reich believes is still among the best in the NFL, remained intact
Reich needed to find out why Rivers was unable to meet his own standards.
"Certainly not coming out of my best year, but a year in which I still know how to play at a high level," said Rivers. “I did it in spurts. I just haven't done it consistently enough. "
Rivers, of course, is not perfect. Few quarterbacks are and those who get there only play at the same level for a certain period of time.
When Reich broke the tape for the past two seasons, the Colts coach saw manageable flaws.
Interceptions are not new to Rivers
Rivers' perceived fall last season can be reduced to two numbers.
Touchdowns and interceptions.
Yards, yards per attempt, percentage of completion, efficiency of the third down, all of those numbers still looked good, but Rivers played just 23 touchdown passes and threw 20 interceptions, the third largest in the NFL, behind only Jameis Winston and Baker Mayfield .
"I mean, this is unacceptable, and he knows it," said Reich. "There is no doubt that we want to reduce that number a lot."
The problem is that the interceptions are not new in Rivers' game. Rivers led the NFL in interceptions in 2014 and 2016, and Reich knows that some of those interception totals come from the competitive streak in Rivers, a refusal to fall without swinging.
"I can tell you firsthand, this guy is not a defender of statistics," said Reich. "As long as he thinks he has a chance to win, he's throwing the ball on the field and, when other quarterbacks can checkdown, he's trying to make chunk plays, and the result of that is that he throws a few more interceptions."
Give Rivers a little more help, and he doesn't have to take that many chances.
Look back through your story. Most of Rivers' great interception seasons came in years when the Chargers failed in the playoffs. In 2017 and 2018, when the Chargers had winning records, Rivers launched 10 and 12 interceptions, respectively.
"We think we will have the right team around us to get that number to where it needs to be," said Reich.
The lack of river mobility
Rivers is not a runner.
He was called a statue most of his career. Unlike Jacoby Brissett or Andrew Luck, Rivers is not the type of quarterback who can make moves with his feet.
Reich didn't need the film to say that. Rivers was never able to run.
This does not mean that he is a duck sitting in his pocket.
"When you look at all the statistics on how long it takes to get the ball out of hand, all these analyzes that we have, you know he's always at the top of the list," said Reich. "However, he also has a unique way of making plays on the field, and he has done so throughout his career."
Rivers averaged 2.63 seconds from snap to last season, the sixth fastest time in the league. Playing behind the Colts' formidable offensive line, he will be terribly difficult to hit.
And its lack of mobility does not mean that Indianapolis needs to remove all pages of the manual.
The passing option, which Reich added during his time with Doug Pederson at Philadelpha, Rivers can do all of that.
He does this in a different way than a quarterback who can hurt opponents with his legs.
“There is part of the RPO game where the quarterback has the option to run, but there is a lot of the RPO game that is just quick decisions by the quarterback and being able to play at all angles of the arm, because you are leaving defenders unlocked Reich said. "You are asking the quarterback to read a second-tier player and then navigate the pitch. Philip is really good at that.
Age is a problem for Rivers
Rivers, aged 38, is clearly nearing the end of his career.
He's not afraid to admit it.
"I'm taking it a year at a time," said Rivers. "I don't think you're going to see me on the Tom Brady series, but I'm excited and I feel like I can still help a football team win a championship."
Because of his age, there was much speculation that Rivers had lost some of his fastball, that the interceptions came from a quarterback who was unable to fit the ball into the windows through which he passed the ball.
Did the Reich player see in the movie, the Rivers player has been in the past two years?
To Reich, he looked very familiar.
"Having been in there for three years, knowing the position of defender as I was, I was so confident that physically he was the right player," said Reich. "I didn't really notice any physical gifts diminishing."
Reich saw a quarterback that he knows very well.
A quarterback that he considers elite.
A quarterback he believes can take the Colts offense back to where it needs to be.