In 2019, the Indianapolis Colts took a major step back in several areas.
After ending the 2018 season with a 10-6 record and a Divisional Round playoff birth, Indy went 7-9 in ‘19.
Also, in 2018 the team was ranked 5th overall in offense and 10th in defense.
The 2019 team faltered to the tune of 16th overall in offense and 18th in defense.
A major reason for the drop-off last year can be attributed to quarterback Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement before the season began.
Suddenly, backup Jacoby Brissett was thrust into the starting role.
Brissett held his own, wrapping up the season with almost 3,000 passing yards, 18 touchdowns, and six picks.
Of course, as the results showed last year, Brissett is no Andrew Luck.
In an attempt to improve the quarterback play in 2020 (at least in the short term), Indy signed free agent Phillip Rivers.
Rivers, the former Charger, is currently on a one-year deal.
On paper, Rivers and the numerous free agents the Colts have recently signed have brought excitement and much speculation for the coming season.
Indy, talent-wise, looks primed for a huge rebound this year, but it is wise to temper expectations.
Every season, without fail, one or two NFL clubs looked poised in the pre-season to have a break-out year including (somewhat) reasonable playoff expectations.
For example, before the 2019 season, the Cleveland Browns brought in high profile players such as Odell Beckham Jr. and Kareem Hunt.
Most of the free world predicted the team would get to the Super Bowl because of all the new talent.
Then, the bottom fell out and the Browns limped to a 6-10 finish.
In an attempt to put things in perspective, here are three things that could go wrong with the Colts in 2020.
1. Phillip Rivers doesn’t live up to his contract.
In 2019, Rivers threw for 4,615 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Fantastic numbers for a starting quarterback and, for the most part, the usual yearly production for Rivers.
However, he also threw 20 interceptions which were the second-most in his career.
His passer rating also sunk to 88.5 which was his worst since 2016.
Some Philip Rivers stats from 2019:
-> Passing Yards (4,615): 4th
-> Completion % (66.0): 10th
-> Touchdowns (23): 15th
-> Interceptions (20): 3rd
->Passer Rating (88.5): 17th
-> Net Yards Per Attempt (7.03): 11th
— Luke Schultheis (@LuckAtLuke) March 17, 2020
Rivers’ 2019 season could be attributed to a lack of dependable offensive linemen (which has plagued the Chargers during his entire career).
Or, he didn’t have the offensive weapons he’s had in years past.
However, more than enough opposing teams including scouts, television analysts, and even Chargers fans could see there was more to Rivers’ poor season.
Rivers himself had to talk himself off the ledge in December when he seemed to acknowledge his mortality.
“Whether it’s exactly the end or not, which it still could be, but either way we’re still probably on 16 playing a little par-3 with only two holes to go,” Rivers said, via video from the team. “I’m definitely on that back stretch. There’s been times I’ve been a little emotional even at the house talking through things and thinking about the last blitz protection meeting or the last bus ride. Those things I have gotten to every now and then.”
There were a number of games last season where Rivers’ game play was questionable and even baffling.
He frequently threw into coverage in an attempt to rescue a down season.
These decisions led to a number of his picks and led to more than a few losses.
Many football experts clearly noticed the decline in his arm strength last year as well and were not kind about it.
2019 Phillip Rivers pic.twitter.com/k8yFO4vfVh
— Potter (@pottercm) November 8, 2019
It got so bad that, by December, many were calling for a quarterback change.
That didn’t happen, though, and Rivers completed the season and the team finished 5-11.
So, was last year just a speed bump in an otherwise Hall of Fame career or did it indicate the end?
Rivers is 38 and about to begin his 17th season.
Due to the aforementioned dearth of a solid offensive line, he has taken a beating.
In four of the past five seasons alone, he was sacked over 30 times.
Maybe last year was an anomaly, or maybe it was a clear sign that Rivers’ new $25 million, one year contract was a short-sighted decision by Colts management.
2. Lack of reliable WR’s to make plays
The Colts currently have one of the best receivers in the game with T.Y. Hilton.
To put it kindly, household names they are not.
If the 2020 season began now, opponents could play their best corner and even a safety on Hilton and, for the most part, shut down the Colts passing game.
Indy has made a number of huge free-agent acquisitions in the past few weeks, Rivers included.
However, many of those transactions have been on the defensive side of the ball.
As it stands now, the receiver position for the Colts is in need of serious help.
Most likely, the team will focus on this need during the draft.
They could also sign any number of free-agent receivers still available.
The problem is, veteran free agents and even a first-round receiver selection will need time to gel with Rivers and the existing offense.
Hopefully, the Coronavirus threat will abate in time for the team to train and practice together before the season begins.
If not, every team that plays Indy this year will be licking their chops in anticipation of a weak passing attack.
3. The Colts kicking game continues to suffer.
Father Time is not kind to anyone and, unfortunately, he finally caught up with Adam Vinatieri last season.
Vinatieri, the longtime Colts and Patriots kicker looked mortal in 2019.
Uncharacteristically, he missed eight kicks and six extra points for the year.
Even worse, that was before he was shut down for the year with a knee injury in early December.
Vinatieri’s misses cost the Colts victories including a last-second, 43-yard miss against the Steelers in November.
(USA TODAY) #Adam Vinatieri’s miss, other mistakes doom #Colts in loss to Steelers : Adam Vinatieri missed a 43-yard field goal with just over a minute to play in the Indianapolis Colts’ 26-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. .. https://t.co/8Z9TBK1zjb pic.twitter.com/u7St1blRsU
— StoriesFlow.com (@storiesflowcom) November 3, 2019
When Vinatieri was placed on injured reserve in December, the team signed Chase McLaughlin for the rest of the season.
#Colts K Chase McLaughlin had a wild rookie season…finally landing in Indy to take over for Vinatieri.
• McLaughlin went 5-of-6 in FGA & perfect 11 made XPA.
— Olivia Ray (@OliviaRayWISH) December 30, 2019
McLaughlin wasn’t too bad during his limited playing time.
He made 5 of 6 field goals and converted all of his extra points in four games as a Colt.
Indy looks like they will stay with McLaughlin for 2020.
The hope is that he will continue to play well, or at least well enough to keep the team competitive.
However, if he falters, even a little bit, there will be calls for his head.
The Colts cannot continue to suffer excruciating losses because their kicker is not reliable.