With an ugly 2019 season in the books and a year preparing to close, it makes sense to take a look back at the year and identify some winners and losers from this season’s offense. Let’s dig in.
While much of the offense struggled in the 2019 season, Marlon Mack had his best year in the NFL, finishing over 1000 yards, rushing for 8 touchdowns, and not fumbling the ball once over 247 carries. He was able to do all that in spite of missing time with a broken hand, and with a completely impotent passing attack that left the Colts’ intention to run exceedingly clear to opposing defenses.
Credit of course goes to the offensive line, but Mack also showed a patience, vision, and decisiveness this season that he hadn’t necessarily done before. He wasn’t perfect, and you’d like to get to a point where he can be a more effective weapon as a receiver to help keep defenses guessing, but overall it was a very strong campaign for Mack.
Perhaps no one on the offensive side of the ball won bigger in 2019 than did Zach Pascal. The man went from a likely September cut all the way to the Colts WR1 for several weeks. While that obviously wasn’t the ideal trajectory for the Colts’ offense, for Pascal it indicated how much development, growth, and hard work he has put in.
The second year undrafted free agent finished his season leading the team in receiving yards with 607 and 5 touchdowns. While it is absolutely putrid that 607 yards receiving is tops on the team, that is hardly Pascal’s fault. He made the most of his opportunities and proved he deserves to be there.
As with most of the offense, Jack Doyle didn’t have a great year. He was consistent and reliable, and while his 448 yards receiving and 4 touchdowns leave something to be desired, he was still one of the better weapons on a passing offense that was devoid of many of them. What’s more, Doyle has proven himself to be a balanced tight end who can execute wham blocks with the best of them, and is a major factor in the effectiveness of the Colts rushing attack.
The Colts clearly value Doyle, and gave him a 3-year $21.3M extension with the team that will keep him on and doing Jack Doyle kinds of things. That payday and Doyle’s reliability amidst a struggling passing attack make him a clear winner in 2019.
The Colts second year guard notched his second Pro Bowl in two seasons, and is a strong contender to make First-Team All-Pro for a second year as well. Nelson was a dominant force again in 2019, and while the line as a whole was not perfect, they remained the most consistent and talented unit on the team, with Nelson as the star of the group.
Somehow Castonzo gets massively underappreciated, both by Colts fans at large and by the national media. He has been a top 10 left tackle throughout his career, and had another great season in 2019. With news that he will consider retirement before deciding if he will re-sign with the Colts, it is probably long past time to appreciate how good he has been and what a drop off in talent there is to whoever fills his shoes.
Honorable Mentions: Ryan Kelly, Marcus Johnson
Don’t misunderstand the label here. T.Y. Hilton is a winner, and arguably the toughest and most talented player on this team. However, this was a hard season for him. Injuries kept him sidelined for large parts of it, and the result was a season where he finished with a career low in receiving yards with 501.
While this was hardly his fault, and it doesn’t affect our perspective on Hilton’s talent or impact on this team, it does point to a hard reality that was discussed at the outset of the season. T.Y. Hilton is 30 years old and is an undersized receiver. He has missed time over the past two seasons due to injuries, and those aren’t going to become less frequent with age. This season stings, because it eats into Hilton’s prime, and we don’t really know how much more of that there is. Hopefully the front office will find someone who can get Hilton the ball consistently.
To start the 2019 season there were many, myself included, who wanted to give Brissett a fair shake. He had been rushed into a bad offense for an awful 2017 team and asked to work a miracle. It was no surprise that he failed, and if anyone could turn him into a winner it was Frank Reich.
Surrounded by a very good offensive line, with a running game there to complement his play, Brissett was in a far better place in 2019 as the Colts signal caller. What’s more, he had almost all the training camp reps as the first team QB with Luck missing time due to his calf injury. With T.Y. Hilton, new acquisition Devin Funchess, and blazing fast rookie Parris Campbell filling out the receiver room alongside one of the most productive tight end groups of 2018 returning, things looked solid for Brissett.
That facade began to fall away quickly. Many of the same issues that had plagued him in his 2017 season were still present. Early on, it was easy enough to overlook those issues behind a running game that ran for more than 160 yards in 3 of the first 5 games. Brissett wasn’t moving the ball all that well, but he was successful in the red zone and the Colts were winning games. But the cracks were still there.
Brissett held the ball too long. He struggled to pull the trigger to open receivers, and often waited until they were already making their break to throw the ball, resulting in passes that were broken up, thrown behind receivers, or had too much heat on them to make up for being thrown late. While he could quite adeptly evade pressure in the pocket, once out and scrambling, he rarely made defenses pay downfield.
As his weapons began to be stripped away, the results got even worse. Compounding the struggles that already existed, a knee injury against the Steelers in week 9 added a new problem to his game: inaccuracy. Brissett’s confidence and accuracy struggled from that point, and hit a low point in week 17 when he threw for 162 yards with no touchdowns and fumbled the ball away twice.
This season ended a long way from where it began, with Colts GM declaring that Jacoby would not flinch, and with the whole organization labeling him as a top-20 quarterback. No one’s stock took quite as big a hit in the 2019 season as did Jacoby Brissett’s.
Speaking of taking big hits, while Brissett takes first, second place goes to Eric Ebron. The star tight end from 2018 seemed set to build on his massive success in a Colts uniform in his second season. Unfortunately, that simply would not be realized. Ebron played 11 games, amassing just 375 yards and 3 touchdowns. He then surprised the coaching staff by deciding to undergo surgery on ankles that had become too painful to play through.
There has been some contention about the situation, because the speculation has been that Ebron underwent the surgery mid-season so that he could recover in time to make himself a marketable free agent. That is a far cry from the kind of teammate you want, but also is something that is hard to fault him for. Players have to look out for their own well-being. Ultimately, Ebron’s second season never scratched even close to his 2018 success, and the drop off will undoubtedly damage his market.