Better, worse or the same? How the Colts' offense stacks up behind Philip Rivers

Why a change of scenery could be great for Philip Rivers (1:23)

Desmond Howard explains why Philip Rivers could be due for a bounce-back year with the Colts after throwing 20 INTs last season with the Chargers. (1:23)

INDIANAPOLIS -- The burning question about the Indianapolis Colts last season, after they lost seven of their final nine games, was: What are they going to do at quarterback?

That was a logical question considering Jacoby Brissett's failures in replacing Andrew Luck, who retired in August 2019.

How would they do it: trade, draft or free agency?

The Colts went the free-agency route in signing veteran Philip Rivers to a one-year, $25 million deal in March. But quarterback wasn't the only pressing need for the Colts, who wrapped up their virtual offseason program a week ago.

Here's a position-by-position breakdown of the Colts' offense and whether each group has gotten better or worse, or is roughly the same:


Key additions: Rivers (free agent), Jacob Eason (draft)

Losses: Brian Hoyer

Returners: Brissett, Chad Kelly

Better, worse or the same? Better

The Colts couldn't stand pat at quarterback after Brissett was hesitant in taking shots down the field, had accuracy issues (Indy was 30th in the NFL in completion percentage) and didn't prove he was the long-term answer in Indianapolis, which had been spoiled by Luck and Peyton Manning for 20 years.

Enter Rivers.

He's coming off a season where he had 23 turnovers -- including 20 interceptions. And he's 38.

The Colts don’t need Rivers to be the league MVP, but they need him to be accurate and willing to take chances downfield. He has been running Frank Reich's offense since 2013, when the Colts coach was part of the Chargers' staff.

"This was a unique opportunity with Philip," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said. "You have a potential Hall of Fame quarterback hit the market that has a history with both our head coach and our offensive coordinator [Nick Sirianni]."

Offensive line

Key additions: Danny Pinter (draft)

Losses: Joe Haeg, Josh Andrews

Returners: Ryan Kelly, Quenton Nelson, Anthony Castonzo, Mark Glowinski, Braden Smith, Le'Raven Clark, Jake Eldrenkamp, Javon Patterson

Better, worse or the same? Same

Protection is something Rivers (sacked 66 times the past two years) didn't have much of recently. That's about to change for him in Indianapolis. The Colts gave up the fewest sacks in the NFL in 2018 (18) and ranked ninth last year with 32 sacks allowed. They were the only team in the NFL last season to start the same group of offensive linemen in all 16 games.

The Colts won't need to win games strictly with Rivers’ right arm. They pride themselves on being a team that's capable of running the ball. They finished seventh in the NFL in rushing last season and they want to improve on that with the addition of Wisconsin back Jonathan Taylor in the draft.

"I think the big part of Philip being here is Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Braden Smith, Mark Glowinski," Sirianni said. "Those guys are our studs."

Tight ends

Key additions: Trey Burton (free agent)

Losses: Eric Ebron

Returners: Jack Doyle, Mo Alie-Cox

Better, worse or the same? Worse

The tight end group ran into trouble last season due to injuries and a lack of depth. Doyle is the backbone of the group because he can do it all. He had 43 receptions for 448 yards and four touchdowns in 2019.

Reich will have a familiar face at the position after the Colts signed Burton to a one-year deal. Reich and Burton were together when the Eagles won the Super Bowl following the 2017 season (see: the Philly Special). Burton is coming off a disappointing final season in Chicago where he played in only half of the Bears' 16 games due to injuries.

Alie-Cox is the most intriguing. The former VCU basketball player is athletic enough to get open as a big target in the red zone and he's an adequate blocker, so he can be used in different ways on offense.

Wide receivers

Key additions: Michael Pittman Jr., Dezmon Patmon

Losses: Chester Rogers

Returners: T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell, Marcus Johnson, Zach Pascal, Rodney Adams, Ashton Dulin, Daurice Fountain

Better, worse or the same? Better

Like the tight end group, the receiving corps was depleted by injuries in 2019. Hilton and Campbell missed a combined 15 games, and Devin Funchess -- who signed with Green Bay in the spring -- missed 15 games himself. Pascal did his best when he was thrust into the top receiver spot, but he's better suited to be a third option at that position.

Finding a receiver with size to go with the speed of Hilton and Campbell was a priority during the offseason. Pittman, drafted No. 34 overall, fits the bill at 6-foot-4. He had 101 receptions for 1,275 yards and 11 touchdowns last season at USC. He possibly could be the team's No. 1 receiver of the future with Hilton turning 31 years old in November.

Fountain appeared to be on his way to joining the receiver rotation until he suffered a gruesome leg injury during a joint training camp practice with the Cleveland Browns that wiped out his entire second season.

The Colts are potentially looking at Hilton, Campbell, Pittman and Pascal as their top four receivers next season.

Running backs

Key additions: Jonathan Taylor (draft), Roosevelt Nix (free agent)

Losses: Jonathan Williams

Returners: Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, Nyheim Hines

Better, worse or the same? Better

This could be the most exciting group of running backs the Colts have had since Edgerrin James was in the backfield during the early and mid-2000s. That's because each back brings a different dimension to the group.

Mack, who will be a free agent at the end of next season, will go into 2020 as the starter after rushing for 1,091 yards in 2019. But you can expect Taylor to get plenty of carries, too. He rushed for 2,003 yards and 21 touchdowns last season at Wisconsin.

"We know a lot of the good running teams in this league and in the past have had good one-two punches," Sirianni said. "It feels like it's just a one-one punch, though, because we have two such exceptional backs. We've seen it work in the NFL so much where you have different styles of guys, right? Both these guys can do multiple things, though."

Hines will be the specialist back that Rivers needs because of his ability to catch passes out of the backfield and go in motion or even line up wide. Just think of Darren Sproles when he played with Rivers and the Chargers.