I’ve been surprised by the rapid change of heart in the Indianapolis Colts front office. For months, they’ve had confidence in Peyton Manning’s ability to heal, but after two preseason blowout losses, they scrambled to coax veteran quarterback Kerry Collins out of retirement.
Collins played for their division rivals, the Tennessee Titans, for the last five seasons. He’s someone who’s very familiar with the Colts, having played them twice each season while with the Titans, and someone with whom the Colts are just as familiar. But what made a backup quarterback battle between Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky turn into a sudden dash to sign Collins?
The biggest concern has to be Manning’s health. He’s waiting for a nerve to regenerate from neck surgery he had back in May, and a recovery time that was originally estimated to be six to eight weeks has become eight-plus weeks. However, if the Colts had really expected Manning to return soon and start the regular season, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
The lesser concern is that the backup battle royale between Painter and Orlovsky has turned into a bust. After spending the past two seasons watching and learning from Manning, there was probably a reasonable expectation that Painter had developed into a decent substitute. Instead, he has a sub-60s quarterback rating in two preseason games against two teams that struggle to defend the pass (Rams and Redskins). On the other hand, Orlovsky’s stats would be far worse than Painter’s if it weren’t for a 44-yard touchdown bomb to Taj Smith, thrown after the Colts were already down 30-3 against the Rams. They weren’t expecting these guys to be as good as Manning, but those stats would put them among the worst starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
Obviously the Colts think they can do better with Collins. And with such a low bar to clear, they’re probably right. While Collins has a dismal 73.9 quarterback rating for his career, he had one of his best statistical seasons in 2010 with a rating of 82.2. It certainly helped him to play alongside running back Chris Johnson and wide receiver Kenny Britt: two of the best at their positions.
While the Colts don’t have a back as good as Johnson, their receiving corps, led by Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Austin Collie is much deeper. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see Collins complete just over 55 percent of his passes, with a 2:1 touchdown to interception ratio, as he did last season. Even if that ratio is only 1 to 1, as it is for his career, that’s probably better than either Painter or Orlovsky can do. The Colts are only one year removed from their last Super Bowl appearance, and they’re built to win now. Even losing two games as they await Manning’s return might be too much to overcome. Collins isn’t the best option, but he’s better than their other choices, and he’ll make them more competitive.