Colts QB Philip Rivers threw 20 picks in 2019 – how many were caused by late game heaves?

Philip Rivers benefits from a deeper look into last season’s failures. We’ll see what the truth is in three months, but in the meantime a little optimism is a fun indulgence on a June Wednesday.

Statistics don’t lie, but they can mislead.

Here are some real numbers that many, including me, have cited to tamp down optimism among Colts fans who believe they are ready to go back to the Super Bowl.

Philip Rivers threw 20 interceptions last season for the 5-11 Chargers.  That’s a lot of turnovers and a lot of losses – certainly more than might be optimal for an aging quarterback for a team hoping to make a run to the playoffs.

Rivers has led the Chargers to the postseason just one time over the past six seasons, so a little cynicism seemed like a good place to start in appraising the effect he might have for the Colts.  As time has passed, I’m trying to be a little more diligent in finding reasons for optimism.

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A look beyond the numbers is needed, though, to be fair to both Rivers and general manager Chris Ballard, the guy who signed Rivers to a one-year, $25 million deal.

It’s true that Rivers threw 20 picks, but let’s take a deeper look at numbers which are also true:

  • 18 of Rivers 20 interceptions were thrown in Chargers losses.
  • 15 occurred when the Chargers trailed.
  • Six were thrown in the final two minutes of games the Chargers trailed.  In four of those games, the Chargers trailed in a one-possession game.
  • Nine total were thrown in the fourth quarter – with only one of those coming when the Chargers led (against the Colts in the season opener).
  • Two of the three picks thrown by Rivers when the Chargers led came against against the Chiefs during one five minute span.
  • Eight picks each were intended for Mike Williams and Keenan Allen.

We can all agree it would be a lot better for a quarterback to complete passes late in games than throw the ball to opponents, but heaving a high risk jump ball is often the only chance a team has to win late in the game – particularly with a substandard offensive line.  Stripping the  six picks that came in the final two minutes of games the Chargers trailed is not unreasonable given the situation.  That leaves us with 12.

Being even more aggressive by knocking down the two other picks that occurred during the fourth quarter of games the Chargers trailed isn’t an absurd overreach, so I’ll split the baby by taking off the pick that came against the Vikings with the Chargers down 39-10.  That pick was thrown at an urgent moment when the game was lost unless something spectacular happened.  That’s 11 picks.

Let’s chuck the picks from the wins, given Rivers’ ability to overcome them.  Now we’ve shaved the number to 9.

Single digit picks give a team the chance to win enough games to get to the playoffs.

My effort to revise history is an exercise that all quarterbacks would benefit from, and it doesn’t elevate Rivers into the upper echelon of the NFL’s gun slingers.  But it does show that Rivers was a victim of his circumstances at least as much as his age or inaccuracy.

This doesn’t mean the Colts are going to the Super Bowl – just that optimism might be as silly as it originally appeared.  That’s true especially if the kicking game rebounds to previous levels, whether the kicker is Chase McLaughlin, Roberto Blankenship, or dark horse candidate Adam Vinatieri.

it will be more than three months from now that Rivers will throw a meaningful pass.  That will give us more time to unearth rationale for optimism and perform arithmetic gymnastics to embrace the notion of the Colts improving at the level so many in Indy believe possible.

I’ll keep looking.

Here is the list of Rivers picks and the circumstances for each (end of game 50/50 balls in bold):

  1. vs. Colts – leading 24-16 4Q 8:39 left (Win)
  2. vs. Detroit – trailing 13-10 4Q 1:10 left (Lost)
  3. vs. Denver – trailing 14-0 1Q 2:33 left (Lost)
  4. vs. Denver – trailing 17-0 3Q 2:14 left (Lost)
  5. vs. Pitt – trailing 7-0 1Q 8:59 left (Lost)
  6. vs. Pitt – trailing 24-17 4Q 0:54 left (Lost)
  7. vs. Chicago – tied 0-0 1Q 0:48 left (Win)
  8. vs. Oak – tied 0-0 1Q 12:05 left (Lost)
  9. vs. Oak – trailing 3-0 1Q 6:14 left (Lost)
  10. vs. Oak – trailing 26-24 4Q 0:27 left (Lost)
  11. vs. KC –  leading 3-0 2Q 12:05 left (Lost)
  12. vs. KC –  leading 3-0 2Q 6:14 left (Lost)
  13. vs. KC – trailing 24-17 4Q 4:20 left (Lost)
  14. vs. KC – trailing 24-17 4Q 0:24 left (Lost)
  15. vs. Denver – trailing 7-0 1Q 3:18 left (Lost)
  16. vs. Minn – trailing 12-10 2Q 2:06 left (Lost)
  17. vs. Minn – trailing 39-10 4Q 7:20 left (Lost)
  18. vs. Minn – trailing 39-10 4Q 1:59 left (Lost)
  19. vs. KC – trailing 10-7 2Q 0:35 left (Lost)
  20. vs. KC – trailing 31-21 4Q 1:06 left (Lost)

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