INDIANAPOLIS – At the very least, Dan Orlovsky would have an eye on his bullpen.
The former NFL backup quarterback – he was instrumental in the Indianapolis Colts avoiding an 0-fer in 2011 – and current ESPN analyst isn’t advocating coach Frank Reich and general manager Chris Ballard replace Philip Rivers with Jacoby Brissett in the wake of another careless outing by Rivers in Sunday’s 32-23 loss at Cleveland.
But Orlovsky does believe that option must be on the table if things don’t change sooner, not later.
“Is it right now the best move? I don’t know because you don’t go back,’’ he said Monday. “But you’ve got to be ready to make the move. You’ve got to have it in your mind that you are ready to emotionally if there’s a turnover early in that Cincinnati game.
“I don’t think you have to do it just yet, but you’ve got to be ready. There’s 52 other guys looking at you. They’re not stupid.’’
The Colts sit at 3-2 after having their three-game winning streak snapped at Cleveland, and the critical eyes are laser-focused on their $25 million QB1. Rivers suffered two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown, and a safety when he was penalized for intentional grounding in the end zone.
In the season-opening loss at Jacksonville, Rivers again was intercepted twice, and they led to 10 Jaguars’ point in a 27-20 loss.
Despite the costly turnovers, Reich made it clear he doesn’t share Orlovsky’s concerns. Is there any consideration for replacing Rivers with Brissett?
“No consideration for that,’’ Reich said in a Monday Zoom conference call. “Philip is our quarterback.’’
It must be noted Orlovsky has no dog in this fight. He’s an ex-Colt who appeared in eight games in ’11, and ended the team’s 0-13 start by starting in week 15 and leading it to a 27-13 win over the Tennessee Titans.
But as a former NFL QB – 26 games and 12 starts with four teams in eight seasons – Orlovsky believes he’s qualified to evaluate the position and how that position is impacting the rest of the team.
It’s in that vein he broached the subject that Rivers might not be the right man for the job. Perhaps it’s tantamount to fitting a round peg into a square hole. For a team built to run the football and play solid defense, there are too many questionable throws and too many bad results.
“The Colts are one of the top four or five teams in the conference,’’ Orlovsky said. “My takeaway is the quarterback play is hurting your football team. I know Philip is a Hall of Famer, but the reality is playing football for the Colts right now is about the throws you don’t make and not the ones you do. You’ve seen it since week 1 that there’s been a little bit of reckless play with the football, and there are throws being made that should not be getting made.
“And that’s hurting the team offensively. Five games in, they’ve got two losses, and both of those are because of turnovers.’’
It’s anybody’s guess what it would take for Reich and Ballard to yank Rivers and hand the reins back to Brissett. They signed the former Chargers standout to a one-year, $25 million contract in March because they believed an upgrade over the efficient but risk- averse Brissett was necessary.
The five-game snapshot is blurry. Rivers is completing 70.8% of his passes and is averaging 8.0 yards per attempt, but his five interceptions are tied for fourth-most in the league. His four touchdown passes are his fewest in the first five games of his 15-plus years as a starter. More damning: 26 QBs have more this season.
In his first five starts last season in the aftermath of Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement – the Colts also started 3-2 – Brissett had 10 TDs and just three interceptions. Everything unraveled after he suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee at Pittsburgh.
From a 5-2 start, the Colts lost seven of nine and opted to replace Brissett with Rivers.
There’s no question Rivers has brought more of a down-field threat than Brissett offered. He has 21 completions that have gained at least 20 yards, including six that have chewed up at least 30. In Brissett’s first five games last season, the passing game generated only 12 20-plus completions, including just three that went for at least 30.
But those interceptions have been killers.
Some of Rivers’ mistakes, insisted Orlovsky, are hard to watch.
“You sit there and say, ‘Man, just don’t make that one. Don’t throw the pick-6 across your body to the sideline. You know better than that,’’’ he said. “‘Don’t take that sack in that situation.’ He knows that.
“That safety yesterday was not like an all-out, oh-my-gosh situation where the quarterback had no chance. The interception that’s returned for a touchdown, it wasn’t an all-out, oh-my-gosh situation where the quarterback had no chance. Some of the misses that we’ve seen him have this year are not the ‘What did you expect the quarterback to do?’ situations. That’s a concern.
“Those mistakes shouldn’t be happening because they are under the control of the quarterback. These are not panic plays where he has 2 seconds to make a decision.’’
While Reich insisted he hasn’t entertained the thought of benching Rivers, Orlovsky is convinced Rivers’ flaws aren’t fixable – he’s 38 and undoubtedly set in his ways in his 17th season – and things might need to be shaken up in the foreseeable future to kick-start the offense and salvage the season.
“Frank and Chris have a very interesting two-week span here,’’ he said.
After entertaining the 1-3-1 Cincinnati Bengals Sunday, the Colts have their bye. Then there’s a trip to 1-3 Detroit before the schedule stiffens: home with Baltimore, at Tennessee, home with Green Bay, home with the Titans, at Houston, at Las Vegas. There’s also a Dec. 27 trip to Pittsburgh.
“Jacoby limits you offensively, there’s no question about it,’’ Orlovsky said, “But the thing that he probably did the best last year is what that offense needs the most.
“Valuing the football has got to be paramount at that position right now for the Colts. It’s different with other teams. I don’t think that you’re going to get Philip Rivers to change that gunslinger mentality in his 17th season.’’
Orlovsky believes Reich will pull the trigger on a QB switch if it comes to that even though the Colts resisted the urge to do likewise a year ago with Adam Vinatieri as the future Hall of Fame kicker endured the worst season of his 24-year career.
“Hopefully you learned from that,’’ he said. “Eventually you have to do what’s best by the team.’’
As much sense as Orlovsky might make, it’s clear Reich isn’t budging.
In his post-game conference call Sunday from Cleveland, he insisted Rivers was “the least of my worries’’ and repeatedly added, “I thought he made a ton of plays out there today.’’
Monday, he soften that a bit, admitting “the statement I made yesterday was dramatic and overdone. My apologies. Not the best statement.’’
However, his support of Rivers is unwavering.
“My trust at the end of the day is who he is,’’ Reich said. “This guy is a Hall of Fame quarterback, and I have the utmost confidence and belief in him. Our team has the utmost confidence and belief in him.’’
Mistakes – interceptions – are going to happen when a quarterback ranks 7th in NFL history with 7,745 attempts. Sunday, Rivers joined Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning as the only QBs in league history with at least 5,000 completions.
Rivers also ranks 6th in NFL history with 401 touchdowns and tied-27th with 203 interceptions. The problem with the latter is they’ve been piling up lately: 23 in his last 17 starts. More concerning is the fact Rivers has had at least two interceptions 19 times since 2016, and his teams are 2-17 in those games.
“You’ve gotta live with some mistakes, and the good is going to far outweigh the one or two bad things that happen,’’ Reich said. “We’ve got to be good enough team to overcome the one or two bad moments that we all have.
“It really happens at other places, maybe just not quite as much public display.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.