Andrew Luck shocked the football world when he retired following the Colts’ third preseason game against the Chicago Bears. While the fan base was slowly desintegrating to dust, the Colts maintained that the team is in a good place with quarterback Jacoby Brissett taking over as the starter. Chris Ballard and Frank Reich have held the opinion that Brissett is a top 20 quarterback in the league for over a year now and they fully believe the team can still be competitive with him under center in 2019.
Despite the faith in Brissett by the Colts’ decision makers, fans still seem to be skeptical of how good he can be in this league. While skepticism and even pessimism is completely fair, some are even saying that it is more viable for the team to tank, as Brissett has proven to be ineffective as a starter when he started 15 games for the team in 2017. The Colts went 4-12 that season as he completed 58.8% of his passes for 3,098 yards and 13 touchdowns while throwing seven interceptions.
While I am not fully on board the Jacoby Brissett hype train, I believe that evaluating him off of his 2017 film is completely unfair to him as a player. The main reasons for this are lack of preparation, lack of talent on the roster, and historically predictable play calling. These factors above make that film completely irrelevant as a means to make a blanket statement on who Brissett is as a QB. Let’s look at some examples though and see what I am talking about.
Lack of Preparation
On September 2nd 2017, the Colts traded wide receiver Phillip Dorsett for quarterback Jacoby Brissett. With this trade, the Colts acquired a backup to starter Scott Tolzien who had high upside and potential. Unfortunately for Brissett though, he was rushed into action just eight days after being acquired as Tolzien was benched in the first game of the season.
This series of events put Brissett at a complete disadvantage compared to almost every quarterback in the league. For a comparison, this off season he has reportedly taken over 1,200 snaps with the starters in camp. Those reps are so valuable to establish a rapport in the offense and get into a rhythm as a player. It also serves a major purpose in learning the playbook and perfecting the nuances of an offense. Brissett had to jump into the 2017 season without any of that repetition and rapport and it showed on film early in the year.
The following film is from his first start of the season in week two against the Arizona Cardinals. This clip shows an example of a receiver and quarterback not on the same page. Chester Rogers sits down in the zone before the safety and corner while Brissett leads his receiver. The result is an overthrown pass and a near interception. Chemistry and understanding a receiver’s tendencies are so important in today’s NFL and Brissett had to learn all of this about his receivers on the fly in 2017.
While the rapport and connection with his receivers was off early on, the communication overall was as well. From missed reads to mistimed snaps and other miscues, there were so many issues early on. Is it really Brissett’s fault? Somewhat, but it would be silly not to acknowledge that it was a very difficult situation for a young quarterback.
To take in an entire playbook and figure out other’s tendencies and such in a very short period of time is a tall task for quarterback who had never started an NFL game at this point and was only entering his second year in the league.
It is no secret to anyone that the Grigson era Colts teams were very poorly constructed. In 2017, the Colts offensive line consisted mainly of two players who are currently out of the league (Jeremy Vujnovich and Michael Person) and two players who are currently backups, and both were playing out of position, in Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark. With that swinging gate of an offensive line, Brissett was sacked over 52 times on the season.
Here is a wonderful example of the type of players he played with in his one season started. In his last start of the year back in 2017, here were the snap counts for the players on offense.
This was the snap counts for the offense the last time Jacoby Brissett started an NFL game. This team is much much different. pic.twitter.com/4C93BA6y0M— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) September 3, 2019
When watching the film, the lack of talent on the roster was apparent. Receivers such as Kamar Aiken and Donte Moncrief were major flops on the year as they hurt more than they helped. Outside of TY Hilton (who was barely targeted on the year) and the reliable Jack Doyle, Brissett lacked any real weapons to throw the ball to. Here is a good pass by Brissett as he hangs tough in the pocket and finds Moncrief deep down the field. Moncrief unfortunately drops the easy pass. Brissett’s 2017 film is littered with bad drops and routes by barely rosterable receivers.
The offensive line was even worse than the receiving group. Joe Haeg and Le’Raven Clark are backup level players in this league and they were playing out of position for a majority of the season. Michael Person and Jeremy Vujnovich were terrible all season and find themselves out of the league just two years later. Anthony Castonzo was the lone 2019 starter who played a majority of 2017 but he was not his typical self as he had one of his worst seasons as a pro. Brissett as a result was under fire constantly all year.
The defense doesn’t get off the hook here either. Featuring linebackers such as Jon Bostic and Antonio Morrison as well as a non existent pass rush outside of Jabaal Sheard, the defense constantly gave up late leads and collapsed in the second half. The Titans in this game ran the same play five times in a row. On the final play here, the defense knows it is coming and still gives up the huge touchdown on a make or break play. Missed tackle after missed tackle, Derrick Henry seals the game for the Titans. The Colts defense was so bad in 2017 and rarely helped the Colts offense out.
This final point is a bit tough to show on tape without showing every play of games. The Colts led nine games in the 2017 season going into the fourth quarter despite only winning four games. How did the Colts lose so many games they led late? Predictable play calling. Click this link to one of the most insane stat threads I’ve ever seen regarding the 2017 Colts and their play-calling.
I have a pretty unbelievable story to share regarding the 2017 Colts. This team has largely been forgotten, because they didn't have Andrew Luck & the coaching staff was fired after the season. This is a story about the consequences of horrendous decision making.— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) February 22, 2018
The overall point of the thread is that the Colts were historically conservative and predictable late in games. They played scared and as a result, they lost many games they could have won. They almost completely relied on running Frank Gore late in games and their efficiency and win total suffered as a result.
Although I don’t have plays to truly represent this, here are two examples. The Colts led late against both the Titans and the Steelers this season. These two plays are obvious runs and the defense knows it. They stack the box and bring safeties down but the Colts continue their conservative predictability and get stuffed for no gains.
So what is my overall point in this piece? Am I saying that Jacoby Brissett will be great this year because so much has changed since 2017? Not necessarily. All I am saying in this piece is that it is completely unfair to grade him off of that season. A young quarterback with little skill around him, no time to prepare, and historically bad play-calling is going to fail every single time.
As we head into 2019 now, Brissett is entering year two in this system. He has spent time with this coaching staff, this playbook, and the players on this roster. He also enters this year surrounded by one of the most talented rosters in the league and has one of the better and more aggressive play-callers in the league behind him in Frank Reich.
Will Jacoby Brissett be a star in 2019? I honesty have no clue. My only point is that we can’t make any blanket statement about who he is based off of irrelevant film of a season that he was bound to fail in. The only approach we can truly take though with him is wait and see. This Sunday against a top opponent in the Chargers will be the first chance to see what Brissett truly has with real coaching and weapons around him.
We will see if he is the Colts’ quarterback of the future this season.