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Josh McDaniels is Proof Ballard Made His Coaching Decision Long Ago

Super Bowl LI - New England Patriots v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The last time I put pen to paper (fingers on keyboard, because it’s 2018) I shared with you my theory that Chris Ballard had chosen his coach long ago and the 2018 Indianapolis Colts would be abandoning the 3-4 hybrid base front and going back to a 4-3 base.

I’m here today because I was right.

In that article I never explicitly stated who I believed was going to be the next coach. I didn’t hedge my bets or else I wouldn’t be writing this now, but personally I believed it was going to be Dave Toub. I was wrong about who it would be, but I stand behind the idea that Ballard knew who his hire would be, all along.

No one knew this, but we all should have had some indication that a relationship was being built.

I failed to connect the why and the how, I had a lot of the pieces of the puzzle put together but there was a single link that should have told me more than anything else, but I was too caught up with the idea of Dave Toub. I ignored the fact that Chris Ballard had seemingly repaired a working relationship with the Patriots.

Chris Ballard knew he wanted Josh McDaniels to be his next head coach so he had to begin to build that relationship and despite what Ballard said about Andrew Luck and the next head coach, he knew that Josh McDaniels would want a QB he could win with. See, I didn’t hedge my bets when I wrote my first article by not naming anyone, but Chris Ballard hedged his quarterback bet by having someone, no matter what, on the team that Josh McDaniels knew he could win with. That quarterback?

Jacoby Brissett

NFL: MAY 25 Patriots OTA Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The most intriguing part of all of this trade? How it happened. Back on September 4th Peter King took a look at the Jacoby Brissett for Phillip Dorsett deal and he gave us the scoop on how it went down:

It was a text message from New England at 7 p.m. Friday that started the trade that, when it was complete at midday Saturday, knocked people off their beach chairs on this Labor Day weekend. On Friday evening, a Patriots operative texted the Colts and asked, and I am paraphrasing: Any interest in Jacoby Brissett for Phillip Dorsett?

The most interesting part of the words that King chose above; “Patriots operative”. So we know that Chris Ballard had been working on building a relationship with not only the Patriots, but specifically Josh McDaniels. Peter King didn’t say “On Friday evening, Bill Belichick texted the Colts...”

Now, am I saying that McDaniels had free reign to trade players as the offensive coordinator? No, but if McDaniels and Belichick are sitting around talking about roster cuts and Brissett comes up as a guy they aren’t going to be able to keep and they would like to trade, it’s completely possible McDaniels just so happens to know a guy that’s reached out and started to build a friendship that runs a team that needs a quarterback like Brissett.

Just wait, it gets better. From the MMQB article:

The Colts did their homework on Brissett over the next 12-plus hours and completed the trade, much to the surprise of the NFL:

There was not a whisper of a rumor that the Pats would deal their No. 3 (but rising prospect) quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, this weekend, particularly with the absolutely unknown QB situation the Patriots have in 40-year-old Tom Brady and looming 2018 free agent Jimmy Garoppolo ahead of Brissett on the depth chart. And though Indy had talked to teams (Rams, Patriots, several others) this summer about trading the underachieving Dorsett—two years, 51 catches since taken as the 29th overall pick in 2015—most around the league thought the Colts would get a mid-round pick, or a pick plus a swap of higher picks

So after the Patriots reached out, the Colts did their due diligence, watching tape of Brissett, especially liking his poise against a hard Houston rush in a September 2016 start. By noon Saturday the Colts had decided to do the deal. Interesting, really, to see how quickly deals developed on this weekend: When Indy staffers were at dinner Friday, they had no thought of doing anything significant at the quarterback position. By lunch Saturday they had upgraded their backup quarterback position—significantly, they thought.

Emphasis mine.

Why would Chris Ballard pull the trigger, and make no mistake about it, he’s the guy that pulled this trigger he’s the guy that you contact if you want to make this trade, but why would he make this deal in only 12 hours while his staff was eating dinner, presumably finished for the evening?

12 hours might be enough for you or I to watch film on a guy and make a decision, but you and I aren’t going to be fired for being wrong about a football player. That’s why NFL evaluators usually take weeks on a single prospect. They compile notes and analyze entire seasons of film. You’ll often hear college scouts say they don’t have enough tape on a prospect that missed 3 to 4 games the year before that prospect declares for the draft. So how did Ballard know he wanted to pull the trigger after 12 hours and seemingly no existing notes on Jacoby Brissett?

He knew because the guy he wanted as his head coach, recommended they bring in the young QB.

You might be thinking “Is Jacoby Brissett really a guy worth coming to a new team for?” To answer that question; maybe. It’s not as simple as yes or no. Is Brissett a franchise QB? Based on what we’ve seen? Probably not, but he gives you a lot more than just what he gives you as a starter.

Like it or not there are questions about Andrew Luck and his shoulder. Jacoby Brissett is good enough to win you games if the rest of the team is strong. We’re gearing up for an NFC Championship game where both quarterbacks playing in that game are at a similar talent level, of a guy like Brissett. So when push comes to shove, a team could do far worse than JB and his constant rolling out of clean pockets, believe it or not.

What, other than his physical ability does he bring? How about knowledge of the playbook McDaniels is going to bring with him? Is it really that big of a deal? Don’t all NFL teams pretty much run the same stuff? Yes, they do, but the language used can vary wildly.

Andrew Luck has been calling plays at the college and pro level for about a decade. In that time, the verbiage is sure to have changed, with that said it probably hasn’t changed that much. If you want a good read on modern football language you can check out this amazing piece from Grantland and Chris B. Brown. Luck has gone back and forth between Air Coryell and West Coast systems. From the article above:

In the Coryell system, the elegance of the three-digit route-tree system has been rendered almost entirely obsolete. Because NFL teams operate predominantly in one-back formations, there are often more than three players running routes, and calling any pass play means having to use both numbers and words (“896 H-Shallow F-Curl”). More critically, the numerical route-tree system gives coaches and players flexibility where they don’t need it and not enough where they do. The “benefit” of a route-tree system is the ability to call any passing concept a coach could dream up, but that option is of very little use. Assuming the route tree has 10 routes (0-9), a three-digit tree gives an offense 59,049 different possible route combinations. That’s absurd. And yet, the route tree by definition only has 10 possible routes, much fewer than any NFL team actually runs. This means that any other route must be called by name, thus defeating the very purpose of having a route tree.

This effectively makes the Coryell system sound a lot like current West Coast offense play calls, which have no organizing principle and have morphed into monstrosities like “Scatter-Two Bunch-Right-Zip-Fire 2 Jet Texas Right-F Flat X-Q.” The advantage of a play call like this is that it informs a player of his job better than other systems do. The disadvantage is that it’s excessively clunky, and plays that are conceptually the same can have wildly different calls.

So Luck has been calling plays this way his entire career. WCO and Coryell play calls are very similar so the learning curve has been there but it hasn’t been that steep. What about the system that McDaniels is bringing in? Is so different?

New England’s offense is a member of the NFL’s third offensive family, the Erhardt-Perkins system...

The backbone of the Erhardt-Perkins system is that plays — pass plays in particular — are not organized by a route tree or by calling a single receiver’s route, but by what coaches refer to as “concepts.” Each play has a name, and that name conjures up an image for both the quarterback and the other players on offense. And, most importantly, the concept can be called from almost any formation or set. Who does what changes, but the theory and tactics driving the play do not. “In essence, you’re running the same play,” said Perkins. “You’re just giving them some window-dressing to make it look different.”

The biggest advantage of the concept-based system is that it operates from the perspective of the most critical player on offense: the quarterback. In other systems, even if the underlying principles are the exact same, the play and its name might be very different. Rather than juggling all this information in real time, an Erhardt-Perkins quarterback only has to read a given arrangement of receivers...

These two systems are very, very different. It’s completely possible that for the first time in Andrew Luck’s career he’s going to need to lean on a teammate to understand the playbook.

Okay. Probably not, he is Andrew Luck after all.

But Andrew Luck isn’t the only guy on the team. Having Jacoby Brissett there to teach the system to everyone he works with will go a long way.

Josh McDaniels knew this.

Chris Ballard knew this.

Josh McDaniels’ first interview this year was with the Colts.

Chris Ballard’s first interview this year was with Josh McDaniels.

Both guys like Jacoby Brissett.

Neither guy wanted to work with anyone else.

This has always been the plan.