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Jacoby Brissett remains under a microscope but the Colts keep winning

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NFL: Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

This is going to be a controversial piece, but I think it’s time to address the elephant in the room: Jacoby Brissett and his role in the Colts future.

I get that this is a polarizing topic. Some say that Brissett is a back up quarterback, top 20 at best, and that he is incapable of taking the Colts to the promised land. Others say that, regardless of his talent, he’s the Colts starting quarterback and it is our responsibility as fans to give him out unequivocal support.

I agree and disagree with both of the previous statements.

In this article, instead of giving you all my evidence first and then my conclusion at the end I’m going to give you my opinion first and then the supporting facts.

My opinion: It’s too soon to say that Brissett is the guy. He hasn’t truly proved that he can be trusted to win a shootout were the other facets of the team have failed. That’s not to say he’s not been playing well. He has. He just hasn’t displayed the ability to crack into that top 10, top 12ish conversation.

If the Colts really believe that the end goal is a Lombardi, getting stuck with a middling QB for 4-5 years can be catastrophic. It’s up to Brissett to prove otherwise.

In summary, I won’t blindly support Brissett. I’ll put his work under a lens. I’ll scrutinize and criticize it (within reason), and if he withstands my examination I’ll join the Brissett hype-train. As of right now, in my eyes he’s in the 15-18 range.


The Bad

Brissett has only truly played 2 good games

I know this is hard to believe, considering that the Colts just came off back to back wins against arguably two of the top three teams in the AFC. But let me explain.

Below is a chart representing Brissett’s passing yards on a weekly basis. As you can see, he’s only passed above 200 yards thrice and 300 yards twice. Obviously passing yards aren’t the most accurate representation of a quarterback’s abilities, but one cannot deny that it is at least a bit worrisome that Brissett seems to only have had success against the Falcons’ secondary (31st passing defense per DVOA) and the Texans’ secondary (11th but had significant injuries).

What if we take a look at passing percentage? Might that tell a different story? Well, as a matter of fact, it would. Per week, this is Brissett’s passing completion percentage.

  • 21/27 (77.7%)
  • 17/28 (60.7%)
  • 28/37 (75.7%)
  • 24/46 (52.2%)
  • 18/29 (62.1%)
  • 26/39 (66.6%)
Average of 65.0%

Pretty good right? Well, if you were to look just at this, you would believe so; however, when you take into account that Brissett is 28th in the NFL when it comes down to Average Intended Air Yards (7.1 yards), you realize that he isn’t exactly completing super high risk passes. In reality it also means that he isn’t even attempting super high risk throws.

However, this can partially be blamed on scheme, as Reich prioritizes quick short passes. Or at least that was the case with Luck, a known quarterback who was injury prone. But even with Luck, Reich dared to chuck it deep a couple of times. It’s almost as if with Brissett these plays have been wiped off the play book. This makes assessing Brissett’s ability to throw the long ball almost impossible.

Now I’ll incorporate some more of Russell’s advanced stats from a piece he aired a few days ago.

The following charts further reiterate the idea that Brissett, while good, has only truly had two weeks (Week 3 and Week 6) when he truly played at a top tier level. Looking at EPA per drop back, Brissett is a whole standard deviation from the mean in which weeks? Week 3 and 6. What about weighted passing success rate? Week 3 and 6. 1st down per drop back or net yards per attempt? Week 3 and 6.

Finally, in my eyes, a great quarterback is one who can win you a game when all else fails just off his ability to make plays. The only game where the three criteria where met (defense didn’t bail out Brissett, run game struggled, Colts fell behind) was Week 4 versus the Raiders. This is the performance Brissett produced against the Raiders’ 26th ranked passing defense:

This is the only game so far this season where the Colts indirectly (or directly, I don’t know what Reich’s conversations with Brissett are like) told Brissett, “We need you to throw us out of this one”. It’s the only game where Brissett attempted over 40 passes all season, and still, most attempts seemed to occur no farther than 20 yards from the LOS. His success rate drastically fell of from the 0-10 (18/26 or 69.2%), to 10-20 (5/15 or 33.3%) to 20+ (1/5 or 20%).

In my eyes, it is of the utmost essence that Brissett prove to Ballard and Co. that he can be relied upon to bail his team out when things aren’t clicking on all cylinder.


Bad tendencies

We talked about this before, but Brissett is very, very, very, hesitant to throw the deep ball. Football is the ultimate team sport, so the blame does not lie solely on Brissett as his wide receivers have done him no favors in creating separation. Still, his yards per attempt is 22nd in the NFL (6.4). This is not good. For one, it allows safeties to play closer to the ball because they know that you won’t test them over the top. This severely impacts the run game as safeties are able to close running lanes fast than if they were 10 or 20 yards farther down the field.

Another one of Brissett’s bad habits which is pretty well documented is his tendency to lock onto a receiver. I personally no longer see this happening as often as Brissett seems to have developed a certain level of trust with all his receivers. Before he seemed to just be following Hilton down the field and checking down to Doyle. Know, his eyes tend to go through his progressions much better. And for all the criticism I give, I also must give props where props are due, Brissett has an natural knack for keeping his eyes down the field even when plays have broken down.


The Good

Leadership

Brissett has that “it” factor. People gravitate towards him. They believe in him and they go to war for him. He can get his guys fired up, and while it doesn’t get tallied up on the box score, it certainly has an impact on the game. On a recent episode of ESPN’s “Get Up”, former Colts punter Pat McAfee said, among other things, something that really stuck with me: Brissett called the players-only meeting last year. Brissett, the backup quarterback who was not supposed to touch the field unless something tragic where to happen, was the one who initiated the meeting that turned around the Colts season.

“Chris Ballard made it very apparent that they weren’t going to worry about Andrew Luck retiring. They paid Jacoby Brissett for a lot of reasons. Inside that locker room Jacoby Brissett was revered as the leader of that locker room. Last year they were 1-5. The person who called the players-only meeting wasn’t the starting quarterback Andrew Luck. It was Jacoby Brissett. Jacoby Brissett has been the vocal leader of that team for the last couple of years.”


Efficiency

Brissett’s biggest strength might be the fact that he’s safe with the ball. As of right now, the Colts seem to think that they can’t win a shoot out. Instead, the game plan tends to be centered around keeping the amount of drives at a minimum and maximizing the points scored per drive.

The Colts are 2nd in the NFL in TOP/Dr (time of possession per drive) at 3:17 minutes (league average is 2:45). They are also 5th in the NFL in points per drive (2.40), 2nd in plays per drive (7.21), 7th in third down conversion (46.91%) and 6th in red zone conversion (65.22%).

While Brissett clearly has a hand in the teams general productiveness, I believe that these stats are more a product of scheme than the QBs actual capabilities. Here’s an example play that demonstrates how the play-calling makes converting on 3rd down and in the end zone extremely easy for the quarterback.

Reich is a master at creating confusion. The tight ends come out of their stance, and the defense erroneously double teams Doyle leaving MAC open to run a shallow cross. Mistake number one. Pascal is also running a crossing route from the other side of the field, meaning that there is only one linebacker to cover two players. As the two Colts’ receivers pass each other, the linebacker momentarily hesitates, allowing Pascal to separate himself. Brissett makes the right read (Pascal gets the TD while MAC would probably have acquired the first down but wouldn’t have reached the end zone).

Here’s another example of a Touchdown where the praise should be mostly placed on Reich instead of Brissett. This is exceptional play-calling by Reich. Brissett doesn’t even have to think or go through his reads, he just has to snap the ball and get it on time and on target.


Poise and Arm Strength

Finally, one of Brissett’s last defining characteristics is his arm strength. He may actually be a little too strong for his own good, as at the beginning of the season he was throwing the ball with a little too much heat on it, making it harder for his receivers to catch it.

Since then though, Brissett has reeled it back. He throws a very tight spiral, which helps maximize his incredible arm strength. In the play below, you can see how the Texans not only stunt, but they also rush 6. Their play is successful in the sense that they get a mismatch: Mack versus Watt. Still, Brissett doesn’t panic and he keeps his eyes down the field. Then, with he pass rush breathing down his neck, he lets the ball fly in the nick of time for a completion to Chester Rodgers near the sideline.


Concluding thoughts

After the article, I still stand by my statement: Brissett is in the 16 to 18 rank when it comes to NFL quarterbacks. I think he most certainly has the ability to move up, but with what I’ve seen so far, I think that’s a fair place to put him. Unless you have a truly dynamic defense or run game, you’re going to need a top 12ish quarterback who can carry you to victory when everything else goes south. Brissett is not there yet, and we won’t know if he’s there until Reich opens up the playbook a bit.

I still believe that, if the right prospect comes along, the Colts should draft a quarterback. Firstly, Ballard preaches competition at all levels, including quarterback. Secondly, I think Brissett, an average quarterback right now, has excelled in Reich’s system, so I can’t even begin to fathom what a more dynamic quarterback could do. Thirdly, Brissett is making a combined $30 million over the next two years, giving us time to further evaluate Brissett while simultaneously grooming a younger prospect.