Philip Rivers On Lions' Defense, Working With Defensive Teammates, Michael Pittman Jr.'s Return

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers today spoke with local media members via video conference. What did he have to say about this Sunday’s opponent, the Detroit Lions, why he enjoys the give and take with his defensive teammates and coaches, rookie wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.’s potential return and more?

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers today spoke with local media members via video conference. What did he have to say about this Sunday's opponent, the Detroit Lions, why he enjoys the give and take with his defensive teammates and coaches, rookie wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr.'s potential return and more?

You can catch that entire session above, but here are some top takeaways:

» Rivers has always loved the give and take with his teammates and coaches on the defensive side of the ball, both giving tips and getting them back in return: While it could be easy for a quarterback to try to maintain his competitive drive at all times, even when it comes to practicing against his own team on a day-to-day basis, Rivers has learned over the course of his now 17-year NFL career the importance of sharing the wealth with those on the defensive side of the ball. After all, if a veteran quarterback can give out a tip or two to a defender or coach that could make a difference on Sundays, why wouldn't he do that?

Now in his first season with the Colts, Rivers said it was interesting navigating those waters early on in training camp, when it's usually the No. 1 offense vs. the No. 1 defense throughout practice. But, over time, Rivers learned how to approach guys like Darius Leonard and Kenny Moore II, as well as defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, and others, and give them a few tips here and there as to what he's seeing from a quarterback's perspective.

And, as Rivers said today, those conversations oftentimes become two-way streets.

"It's a lot of football talk as you can imagine through training camp, in the locker room, on the field, in between series, weight room, all around the building," Rivers said. "I've really enjoyed getting to hear those guys too. Going against a different defensive scheme all throughout training camp than I was used to, little things here and there, learning different rules that they may have and obviously sharing whatever I can to help us."

Rivers said he formed a terrific relationship over the years with former San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle — "He and I would talk all the time between series and plays and this and that and what he saw," Rivers added — and that he's beginning to do the same with his defensive teammates now in Indy.

"It's been fun to do that," Rivers said. "You mentioned Kenny (Moore II), certainly talked to him, quite a bit with Darius (Leonard), A-Walk (Anthony Walker) as well and Khari (Willis) on the back end, the corners. Justin Houston, it has been great to hear his perspective. I would imagine that's pretty common. I certainly do enjoy that part of it."

» Rivers thinks Michael Pittman Jr. can continue his emergence once he's able to return to the lineup: The Colts used a second-round (34th-overall) pick this year on Pittman Jr., a talented wide receiver out of USC whose primary role was going to be lining up on the outside, but who also showed a history of making tough plays over the middle, winning one-on-one matchups in the red zone and also being a strong blocker in the run game.

Because the Colts entered the season with three talented, veteran receivers ahead of Pittman Jr. in T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell and Zach Pascal, that allowed the rookie a little bit more leeway to settle into his role early on. But when Campbell went down with a serious knee injury early in Indy's Week 2 contest against the Minnesota Vikings, Pittman Jr. saw his role increase significantly.

After being targeted with just two passes, catching both for 10 yards, in his NFL debut Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Pittman Jr. not only was targeted much more often Week 2 against the Vikings — he had four receptions for 37 yards on six total targets — but he also saw his offensive snap count increase from 39 in Week 1 to 67 in Week 2.

Pittman Jr. continued on that upward trajectory the following Week against the New York Jets, but would suffer a lower leg injury later in the first half. He returned in the third quarter and finished with three receptions for 26 yards, but later that night would undergo surgery after being diagnosed with compartment leg syndrome, and was subsequently placed on injured reserve.

Pittman Jr. returned to practice on Wednesday, starting a 21-day window for the Colts to decide whether to move him back to the active roster or revert him to IR for the remainder of the season. If and when he is able to return — he could be back as soon as Sunday's Week 8 matchup on the road against the Detroit Lions — Rivers said he's excited to get the rookie receiver back in the mix.

"I think you saw there as he was getting going, really that game (against the Jets), he had a good game that game. Catching some of the suddenness that he can do underneath, big and strong after the catch and just his size too and the intermediate down-the-field stuff," Rivers said of Pittman Jr. "Obviously, he was picked where he was for a reason and certainly has all the physical and mental tools to be a heck of a player in this league.

"It adds another dimension, another piece, part of that receiver group," Rivers continued. "I remember seeing it early on; obviously you lose him and Parris for some time, but that was a very deep group and a group that kind of all complemented each other nicely. It will certainly be good to get him back out there with us."

» Getting the ball into the end zone will be a challenge Sunday against the Lions: Rivers does have recent history to dig into when it comes to playing the Lions and their defensive-minded head coach, Matt Patricia.

Last season, the Lions won an ugly Week 2 slugfest against Rivers' Los Angeles Chargers, 13-10, at Ford Field. While Rivers completed 21-of-36 passes for 293 yards in that game and was sacked just once, he was held without a touchdown and also threw an interception.

But what Rivers remembers most from that game was how stingy the Lions' defense was in the red zone; the Chargers were able to score a touchdown on just one of three trips inside Detroit's 20-yard line, and that came early on, when running back Austin Ekeler punched it in from one-yard out at the midway point of the first quarter.

The Chargers actually took a 10-6 lead into halftime thanks to a Ty Long 39-yard field goal right at the end of the half, and the score would remain that way until Matthew Stafford found Kenny Golladay for a 31-yard touchdown reception midway through the fourth quarter, and the Lions would hang on from there.

While Detroit (3-3) hasn't been as stingy in the red zone so far this season — they allow their opponents to score a touchdown on 68 percent of their trips inside their 20, which ranks 22nd in the NFL — Rivers knows he's in for a battle on Sunday.

"We didn't get into the end zone very much. I remember that," Rivers said when asked what he remembers about last year's game against the Lions. "We were able to move the ball fairly well 20 to 20, but we had a couple turnovers and penalties and then just their defensive play against us kept us out of the end zone.

"It's a good defense," Rivers continued. "A lot of similarities. Again, they have a few different pieces, but Coach Patricia has been around a long time. I've competed against his teams and his defensive scheme quite a bit and it's always a challenge."

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