Colts’ notebook: Philip Rivers must weigh ‘check-down vs. touchdown’

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INDIANAPOLIS – So much of how the Indianapolis Colts’ season unfolds likely revolves around how well Philip Rivers handles every quarterback’s balancing act.

Risk versus caution. Knowing when to push the football into tight coverage, and understanding when the better option is a check-down to a running back.

Chris Ballard describes it as “the check-down versus touchdown mentality.’’

Or, from Rivers’ viewpoint, it’s walking that fine line separating aggression and stupidity.

“I certainly feel confident in throwing the ball in tight windows or throwing the ball in tight coverage and being accurate where it’s our ball or nobody,’’ he said Wednesday on a Zoom conference call. “Certainly had some throws get away from me in the past, really just last year more than anything.

“But I don’t want that to turn me into someone that’s scared to make a play because I don’t think you can play that way, either. There’s a fine line there between aggressive and stupid. There’s a certain window to keep it in, and we’ll be in good shape.’’

No one has ever described Rivers as a game-manager. He’s the prototypical risk-taker. He ranks 6th in NFL history with 397 touchdowns and 59,271 yards. And he ranks tied-29th in league history with 198 interceptions. Among active QBs, only Drew Brees (237) has more.

One of the red flags concerning Rivers is his carelessness with the football in 2019, his 16th NFL season. He had 20 interceptions, third-most in the league and tied for the second-most in his career.

“We can go through all those interceptions from last year,’’ Rivers said. “I’m responsible for every one of ‘em. They came out of my hand. But every interception has a story.

“The important thing for me is be myself, but find that sweet spot from aggressiveness and stupid.’’

From game-to-game, it’s navigating that fine line.

“It’s game situations,’’ Rivers said. “Down and distance. What’s the score? Where are we in the game? What kind of game is it? Is it a game where you feel like you’re gonna need 35 or is it a game where, shoot, our defense is rollin’? Throw the check-down and let some of our backs go get it, and if we don’t, we’ll punt and pin ‘em down there and make them go 90.

Injury update

Defensive tackle Sheldon Day, one of Ballard’s offseason free-agent acquisitions, continued to miss practice with a knee injury. The nature of the injury and when it occurred aren’t known.

“The knee injury is going to take a little bit,’’ Frank Reich said, “but he’s progressing nicely. It’s probably going to be a little bit.’’

Day was a teammate of DeForest Buckner in San Francisco the last three seasons. After the Colts traded for Buckner, they signed Day to a one-year contract. He’s a product of Warren Central H.S.

Defensive end Justin Houston, who missed the last two days with a strained neck, returned to practice Wednesday. Also back at work was cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who missed Tuesday’s session with an illness.

Among players missing work: cornerback Kenny Moore (groin), offensive tackle Braden Smith (foot), cornerback Isaiah Rodgers (ankle), offensive tackle Chaz Green (calf), offensive lineman Brandon Hitner and tight end Xavier Grimble.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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