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Brian Hoyer, Jacoby Brissett and the art of throwing receivers open

Can Jacoby Brissett stretch the field?

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In Brett Mock’s most recent Quick Reaction article, he ruffled some feathers when he wrote:

One final thought, if those who have been confused about the quarterback debate heading into this game don’t now understand the reason for the debate, I don’t really have much I can say.

Then he proceeded to say a lot.

His point wasn’t whether one QB is better than the other, but rather that they both have different strengths and weaknesses that makes it difficult to say which one would perform better on the current team.

It now comes down to the question of — would the ultra conservative, slow to get through progressions, mistake avoiding Brissett give the Colts a better chance than the more aggressive, more productive Hoyer.

Who knows? But the debate about whether Brissett is the long-term answer shouldn’t be difficult to understand at this point.

I’m not sure why there was so much blow-back to those fairly innocuous statements, but one specific point he made resonated with me:

Brian Hoyer showed . . . the ability to throw players open before they break on routes.

This has been my main knock on Jacoby Brissett. He tends to only throw to receivers that are already open, resulting in short throws. He seems hesitant to stretch the field.

To illustrate this, I took snapshots from last Sunday’s game of Brissett’s 5 passes and the first 5 passes from Hoyer. For those of you screaming “small sample size”, you’re not wrong. However, this is not a statistical review. This is merely to provide examples of what I see when I watch Brissett play and contrast that with a QB in the exact same system against the exact same defense.

This is also not an X’s and O’s breakdown. I’m not addressing which read it was or whether it was the “right” decision or if there were better receiving options. I’m just trying to capture how open the receivers are when each QB decides to throw to them.

Each image captures; the QB at the moment they start their throwing motion, the intended receiver circled in red, and the nearest defender. As such, the scale and aspect ratio of each image is going to be different, but I’m confident in your abilities to handle that.

I’ll start with Brissett.

JACOBY BRISSETT (4/5 59 yds, 0 TD, 0 INT)

Notice that on all of Brissett’s passes, the receiver is wiiiiiide open.

Pass 1 - 1st Qtr, 1st & 10 (Shotgun) J.Brissett pass short left to Z.Pascal to PIT 27 for 8 yards (S.Nelson).

No defender within 5 yards and that is the last pass attempt on this drive.

Pass 2 - 1st Qtr, 1st & 10 (:50) (Shotgun) J.Brissett pass short left to J.Wilkins to IND 43 for 6 yards (S.Nelson, M.Fitzpatrick).

Big cushion on this throw as well.

Pass 3 - 1st Qtr, 2nd & 4 (:06) J.Brissett pass deep right to Z.Pascal pushed ob at PIT 39 for 18 yards (J.Haden).

Wide open. Big gain.

Pass 4 - 2nd Qtr, 3rd & 5 (14:02) (Shotgun) J.Brissett pass short left to P.Campbell to PIT 7 for 27 yards. FUMBLES, ball out of bounds at PIT 7.

Campbell by himself . . . and then tackles himself . . . and then tries to give the ball away.

Pass 5 - 2nd Qtr, 1st & 12 (12:46) (Shotgun) J.Brissett pass incomplete short right to J.Wilkins. IND-J.Brissett was injured during the play.

Brisssett’s only incomplete on the day was an undefended check-down.

BRIAN HOYER (3/5 39 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT)

Pass 1 - 2nd Qtr, 3rd & 11 (12:02) (Shotgun) B.Hoyer pass short middle to J.Doyle for 11 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Doyle was just starting his break and about to lose his defender when Hoyer starts his wind-up. I think this is a pass that Brissett eventually throws, just not nearly as early as Hoyer did.

Pass 2 - 2nd Qtr, 2nd & 6 (3:18) (Shotgun) B.Hoyer pass incomplete short right to D.Cain (J.Haden) [T.Watt].

Hoyer is completely anticipating Cain to get open . . . which he doesn’t.

Pass 3 - 2nd Qtr, 3rd & 6 (3:13) (Shotgun) B.Hoyer pass short right to E.Ebron to PIT 20 for 7 yards (M.Barron).

I think Brissett would pull the trigger on this . . . probably at light speed, but it’s Ebron so for sure he catches it.

Pass 4 - 2nd Qtr, 1st & 10 (2:36) (Shotgun) B.Hoyer pass deep middle intended for J.Doyle INTERCEPTED by M.Fitzpatrick [C.Heyward] at PIT 4. M.Fitzpatrick for 96 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

That’s Fitzpatrick hiding . . . directly in Hoyer’s view.

Pass 5 - 2nd Qtr, 1st & 10 (2:21) (Shotgun) B.Hoyer pass short left to N.Hines to IND 46 for 21 yards (D.Bush, M.Fitzpatrick). PENALTY on PIT-T.Watt, Roughing the Passer, 15 yards, enforced at IND 46.

This would be a textbook Brissett throw.


In all 5 of Brissett’s throws, there is no defender within a country mile of the receiver when he pulls the trigger. With Hoyer, there was a defender within 1-2 yards on 4 out 5 attempts and those passes averaged 8.8 air yards, while Brissett’s averaged 4.8.

Five throws does not a season make, but to me, this is what I have seen all year. It is evident to me that Brissett only throws to already open receivers which has good and bad implications. It usually means a good completion rate and a low interception rate (Brissett ranks 8th in INT Rate).

However, it also usually means shorter throws. Brissett has a current average depth of target (aDOT) of 7.0 yards, which ranks 29th of all QBs. Short aDOT often means short passing gains and limited first downs (Brissett is 18th in both net yards per attempt and passing first down rate).

Of course, longer aDOT is not a guarantee of passing success, but shorter aDOT is basically a guarantee of not making the playoffs. Of the 120 playoff teams in the past 10 years, only 5 had a regular season aDOT less than Brissett’s (3 of those were Alex Smith teams). In the modern NFL, it seems that passing length is a “you must be this tall to ride” sign that the Colts don’t quite reach.

I’m not saying Hoyer is better, but I am saying Brissett has to get better. And being less conservative might be a step in the right direction.