As rough as I thought the Colts’ third preseason game might be to watch, it turned out to be so much worse. As Twitter exploded with the news of Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement, I sat in my house in a state of shock. I wasn’t angry, or sad, or anything like that. Why? Because I couldn’t get my brain to accomplish any of those states of mind.
Others have shared their own feelings on Luck and his decision, so I won’t dedicate time here to that topic any more than to say that I will be sad not to see such an incredibly entertaining player suiting up for the Colts anymore. It is truly a sad day for fans to lose such a great talent, made worse when you realize that the previous front office holds a substantial responsibility for that loss.
The neglect of Luck’s protection got the Colts this mess, even if it isn’t really the same Colts organization it was then. It is about that protection and what it might mean for the coming season, that I wanted to talk about today.
Per Pro Football Focus, Andrew Luck was pressured on 39.1% of his drop backs from 2012-16. The worst season in terms of pressures was 2016, which came in at 44.3% of all drop backs. By comparison, Luck was pressured on just 29.5% of snaps last season.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone, but when you get pressured 10% less than usual at the quarterback position, it is easier to do your job. Luck showed that by winning comeback player of the year and having an outstanding 2018 season.
When he took the helm in Luck’s absence back in 2017, Brissett was pressured on 40.1% of drop backs. That’s pretty much in line with the typical numbers coming from the offensive line the Colts had fielded during that time. In that season he was sacked 52 times and the Colts led the league in sacks allowed.
That status quo wasn’t acceptable to GM Chris Ballard, and when Frank Reich was brought in, it was clear that their primary goal was to fix the offensive line and protect Luck. They did so, and by hitting on draft picks and free agents, they managed to put together what is arguably the best offensive line in football.
Between Reich’s protection meetings with the full offense to make sure everyone is on the same page, and the bringing in of Howard Mudd to refine and improve the technique of the linemen further, this is a group that should be able to keep pass rushers at bay.
What does all this mean? It means that Jacoby Brissett probably won’t be getting hit at anything close to the rate he did when he started for the Colts back in 2017. Apart from the fact that the line is dramatically improved, Frank Reich likes running a quick striking offense, and found ways to scheme players open that got the ball out of Luck’s hands quickly last year. He will almost certainly look to do the same for Brissett.
Given that Brissett spent 2017 operating an outdated and unimaginative offense that he had to learn on the fly, it is fair to think things will go far better with a whole off season of preparation under his belt in the second year of an offense and with Frank Reich calling the plays.
With a deeper group of offensive play makers on hand to help him, and a dramatically improved defense that is capable of making big plays themselves, this team is far from adrift. They can and should be competitive in every game they play in 2019, and in a division with a lot of questions, they should still be the odds-on favorite to win.
Since the time of Peyton Manning, Colts fans have been conditioned to think that a team has to be carried by their quarterback. From the day he took the job, Chris Ballard has said that the team is not about one man. We have always winked and nodded at him as if we understood that he didn’t really mean it.
Of course he would say that, right? He has one of the best quarterbacks out there. Easy to say it isn’t about one guy if you have your franchise passer. It seems though, that Ballard believes it. This team won’t be about one man. They will expect to compete and win regardless of who is under center.
Chris Ballard has proven to be a better evaluator of talent, and a smarter GM than most around the league. He drafted two rookie All-Pros and transformed an offensive line that was completely inept. He has brought in coaches and staff who have transformed the culture of the team to one that expects and demands wins.
Does any of that make Jacoby Brissett a player at the level of Andrew Luck? No, it certainly doesn’t. Luck could very well have propelled this team to a championship. Instead, every game this season will be a fight. But it is a fight this team will be ready for.