The Indianapolis Colts blew a major chance to take over the AFC South divisional race on Thursday, falling 20-17 to the Houston Texans. In a game where the rushing attack and defense were pretty good overall, one can’t help but look at the quarterback play for why the Colts’ lost this one. For as much praise Jacoby Brissett has gotten from National media this season for his play after the retirement of Andrew Luck, he has been far from perfect and has had quite a few issues on the season. This past Thursday really highlighted those issues on a National stage.
The Colts are near dead last in the league in terms of passing yards per game in 2019, ranking only ahead of the Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins, and New York Jets. The team overall averages just 195 yards passing per game. This is not great to say the least. While the issues don’t entirely fall on Brissett (wide receiver injuries are also a factor), a majority of these issues do fall onto the shoulders of the signal caller. In today’s film room, we will be looking at his game against the Texans to see where the problems were for him in this game.
The number one issue with Brissett this year has been how passive he is with the football. He has been scared to take even the slightest chance down the field as he often opts for the safe, underneath throw. This is great for completion percentage and TD/INT ratio, but overall, it hurts the football team. While the Colts have been surviving his passive play all year, it finally hurt them on Thursday.
Let’s take a look at the play that has made it’s way across social media today. Frank Reich said after the game that he did draw up some deep shots despite the Colts’ longest pass of the day only going for 14 yards. This was one of those designed chunk plays. On a play action with max protect in the pocket, Brissett is staring at a wide open Jack Doyle down the seam. He is wide open with no defender in the vicinity, yet Brissett does not throw the ball for some reason. He elects to leave a very clean pocket and scramble for an eight yard gain. What could have been a big 20+ yard gain ended up being a much smaller gain, and the drive ended in a punt.
The biggest issue with Brissett’s passive play in this game was _when_ he decided to be passive. Often, it was on third or fourth down when the Colts needed a conversion. Here is an example on 3rd and five. The Colts run trips to the top of the screen in order to find a hole in the zone coverage for the first. This works to perfection as the underneath defenders attack forward and wide receiver Zach Pascal is able to run a 10 yard curl behind them for the first down. Problem is, Brissett doesn’t hit him with the wide open pass. Instead, he dumps it down short of the sticks instead of making the easy throw to Pascal. This play ended up in a first down, ultimately, but it was a terrible decision by the Colts’ quarterback.
Throwing short of the sticks on third down is almost never a good idea, but it’s especially bad on third and manageable. Again on a third down, this time third and five, Brissett is way too passive and misses two open opportunities down the field for the first down. The first option is at the top of the screen where the dagger concept works perfectly, with the slot streak clearing out the safety and corner while the deep in is wide open over the middle. At the bottom of the screen, Pascal runs a “C” route in between the safety and corner and is also open for a first down. Instead of hitting either of these two options, Brissett elects to dump it down for a three yard gain that leads to a punt. These are plays that a “franchise quarterback” simply has to make down the field.
Fast forward to late in the game and Brissett is still too passive down the field, even when the team is trailing in the fourth quarter. Here, he is sitting on the deep out route and waiting for that play to develop on the top of the screen with Marcus Johnson. Johnson hits his break and has enough of an opening for Brissett to fit the ball on the sideline. He doesn’t throw it. If Brissett didn’t want the deep out on the play, he at least had a wide open Jack Doyle sitting roughly ten yards down the field for a nice gain. Again, he doesn’t throw it. Instead, he hesitates with the play and is forced to throw it away as the pressure closes in on him.
Final play of the game for the Colts’ offense is a fourth and seven near mid field. The Colts need to convert to have a chance in this game. Initially, the Colts’ receivers are locked up on the play with no openings at all. Brissett does a great job of buying time in the backfield as he allows for his receivers to work into open space. One of those receivers, Zach Pascal, is able to break free down the field as Brissett is running forward. If Brissett decided to throw this fairly routine pass down the field, the Colts would have had a 20+ yard gain and been in field goal range. Instead, Brissett decides to pump to Pascal and run for the first himself, ending up a yard short and leading to a Texans’ victory.
Other issues of note
Accuracy has been a bit of an issue for Brissett in recent weeks. While he did have a few nice throws down the field to TY Hilton in this game, he had a few instances of bad misses and misplaced throws on rather routine plays. This play was his biggest miss, however. Brissett does a great job of moving in the pocket and buying time for his receivers. This time, he keeps his head up and spots a wide open Eric Ebron with room to run after the catch. Unfortunately, the pass sails ahead for an incompletion. This was by no means an easy play but it is one that just has to be made by your starting quarterback.
Even on completed passes, Brissett had his issues with placement and accuracy. Here is one of the easiest passes in football. TY Hilton is barely covered as he has 10+ yards of cushion on the outside. With a 3rd and less than five and a 10+ yard cushion, this quick hitch should be a simple pitch and catch. Instead, Brissett nearly blows an easy conversion with a pass well behind and low to Hilton. Luckily, Hilton is able to save the conversion with a diving catch, but this pass is just terrible. Brissett has improved his overall accuracy and mechanics over his career but this was a very bad outing for the veteran quarterback.
The final clip in this article is an issue that has been prevalent since the Kansas City Chiefs matchup. The Chiefs found out in that matchup that if you blitz the Colts on key downs, they will struggle to convert. This happened a few times on Thursday as well. With the Texans showing a blitz, Brissett has to find his best and his quickest matchup to exploit. He wrongly decides that this is Hilton who is facing press coverage on an out route. The correct option would have been Chester Rogers in the slot who has off coverage against a quick slant. This wrong decision ultimately cost the Colts a chance for points again. The Colts have been bad against the blitz. Part of the issue does fall on the offensive line, but Brissett has really struggled with his hot reads in these situations.
Jacoby Brissett is not a bad quarterback. He was bad and hurt the team on Thursday, but overall he is not a bad quarterback. The biggest issue, though, is that his flaws were eventually going to catch up to the Colts. It is unsustainable to have such an ineffective passing game in today’s NFL and expect to be a winning team.
Brissett does some things very well on the field. His pocket movement and presence are great, and he has all the traits you want in a leader of your team. He just is not showing any development in terms of anticipation, touch, or aggressiveness. He is not finding guys unless they are absolutely wide open and he is not throwing guys open like you see every Sunday from other NFL quarterbacks. How much can he improve on these things as a 27 year old quarterback? Who knows. The only thing we do know is that he has to show out these last few games or the Colts could be in the market for a new QB this offseason.