Right now the Indianapolis Colts are a bad third-down team. They are a bad red zone team at the moment and are becoming that team in which opposing quarterbacks feel comfortable throwing downfield against. These are major issues, among others, that the Colts will have to address and overcome if they intend to win any games down the line.
We discussed the issues in the red zone with Jacoby Brissett last week, which we saw a few of those habits still creeping in on MNF. But, today we’re going to touch on the third down issues, specifically those in the second half when the Colts were in the middle of another collapse.
To be clear, this isn’t solely a look at Brissett and how he’s handling third-down situations. It’s a look at everyone involved — trying to break it down with whatever we see. Let’s go.
Leak in Protection, Nobody Open
Here’s a third-and-6 situation early in the second half. Right from the snap, we see Jacoby Brissett looking to his left with intent to throw to that side. Neither receiver ‘win’ per say immediately, and with the Titans defender twisting Le’Raven Clark struggles allowing inside pressure.
Brissett, as he’s progressing to T.Y. Hilton, feels the pressure and gets the ball off in a hurry. Whether Brissett’s throw was accurate or not wouldn’t have mattered. Hilton’s coverage was in his hip pocket and had the position to bat the ball down.
Brissett’s throw was low, but if he had thrown it shoulder height it could have very well been intercepted. Simply put, with the speed in which Brissett was under duress, there’s literally nothing he could have done.
Maybe he could have escaped the pocket to his right side, but that would imply that he’d come off of his initial read sooner and that he’d seen the pressure earlier. His hands were completely tied here. The receivers didn’t win and the protection didn’t hold up. That’s kind of important on third down opportunities.
Clean Pocket, Wrong Target
Look, some of these are going to be a hindsight is 20/20 type situations. This is one of those. For the most part, Brissett had a clean pocket and the ability to throw with timing backed up inside his own 20-yard line.
On the play in question, Brissett does stare down Jack Doyle, which is an issue if you’re expecting him to see another receiver breaking open simultaneously. There’s not much mystery with this decision. Brissett locks on to Doyle and throws with good timing at the top of his route.
Outside of that Hilton breaks at the same time and has considerably more separation. Hilton and Doyle both had the distance on their routes to achieve the first down just with the catch, but Doyle’s catch was going to be much more difficult to haul in.
With the result, we can see that it was tougher to bring in as the defender had his hand in there knocking the pass away. You just hope his peripheral vision is keener next time around and sees Hilton with a better chance to make the catch and keep the chains moving.
Outside Pressure, Receivers Failing to Win at LOS
This example is very similar to the first one we covered. Similar distance to go, quick pressure — this time off the edge — and very little for Brissett to accomplish even with a completion.
There are deep routes from Kamar Aiken and Donte Moncrief, and then Doyle, Hilton, and Robert Turbin are running a mixture of underneath routes — none of which are run to the depth of a first down reception.
Doyle’s route takes too long to develop, none of Aiken, Hilton or Moncrief are able to win early enough on their routes for Brissett to get the ball to them and Turbin is his final, and only option. Again, Brissett has nobody open with the pressure coming almost immediately and most of the man coverage is very tight as well.
This is a combination of receivers not getting open, nearly immediate pressure and some questionable play design given the fact that Tennessee had been tuning up their blitzes all half and nothing was being done to combat this.
Turbin should have been left in to protect at a minimum considering the time the rest of the routes needed to open up. Not a fan of much of anything about this other than Brissett getting rid of the ball and not taking the sack.
Short By Design
This third-and-20 situation was purely a play in which the Colts were trying to get into better field goal range. There are less than 8 minutes to go in the game, and the Colts are down 3 (19-22). You can’t see it, but the Titans are in a cover-2, man defense. Both of their safeties are deep, and everyone else who’s not rushing the quarterback was in man-coverage.
Hilton and Moncrief are running their coverage off and the combination of routes is strictly designed to get Doyle the ball. There’s no rush for Brissett to get the ball out, but even if he chose to go to one of the deep routes it wouldn’t have mattered because neither of them gets to the sticks anyway.
This play was never designed to be conversion attempt. Doyle should have caught this, but the Colts still got the field goal.
Good Protection, Nearly Converted
Unfortunately, we have to take another look at the play that Turbin’s elbow bent in a way it was not meant to. Again on this third down attempt (third-and-10), the Colts are down, but this time the Colts need a touchdown (22-29). There’s 2:41 left in the game so they can’t really afford not to at least get a solid chunk towards first down yardage.
Once again, Brissett has a clean pocket, isn’t under any immediate pressure and there simply aren’t many options. As you can see, everyone past the sticks is covered tight by the Titans’ secondary and the only options are Aiken dragging across the formation and Turbin leaking out.
Turbin was easily the best option here and he nearly achieved first down yardage. Turbin picked up 9 yards and gave the Colts a great chance to convert on a fourth-and-1.
To put it lightly, the Titans’ secondary was fantastic in the second half Monday night, and conversely, the Colts receivers and Rob Chudzinski were not. Brissett has his own demons to work through as a young ascending quarterback, but he is still in the era of his career in which he needs his receivers to be open at the top of his drop.
If the Colts hope to get rid of these second-half struggles, the offensive coordinator, the quarterback, all of the receivers and the offensive line are ALL going to have to be better. Otherwise, we’ll just continue to see the same disappointing results week in and week out.