The 2019 season did not turn out the way the Indianapolis Colts, or its fans, had hoped coming into the year. Putting the Andrew Luck situation aside, there was enough optimism in the team’s potential with the roster Chris Ballard had built to this point, and having what we all perceived as a capable starter in Jacoby Brissett.
I don’t think anyone felt Brissett would break out and take the league by storm, but the Colts had a pretty workable schedule with realistic hopes of making the playoffs with Frank Reich calling the shots for a quarterback in his second year in the system. Brissett’s first year with the team came in 2017, ultimately a lost season under Rob Chudzinski’s tutelage — and in Chuck Pagano’s lame-duck year as the head coach — where he started 15 games.
Brissett didn’t play terrible in 2017, but there were obvious improvements he needed to reach in order to become a legitimate starter in the league. To be perfectly honest, it was a little aggravating watching that offense, all things considered. Chudzinski was awful, the supporting cast wasn’t much to write home about to begin with, and Brissett was ultimately a very average quarterback with clear limitations that year.
Regardless of his lack of experience, and the offense’s limitations, I was pretty hard on Brissett. Just for some history about what I saw that year, you can see some film room pieces I put together on his red zone issues, his lack of anticipation, and his struggles with field vision and accuracy that you can look back on if you wish to.
In his post-season press conference, Chris Ballard answered multiple questions about Brissett’s season. He stated that Brissett did some good things this year, but was also quite candid in stating that Brissett needed to be more consistent and that ultimately the jury is still out on him, and that giving him a short-term deal before the season was a prove-it deal for a lack of better words.
However, one of the things that came out of Ballard’s mouth that didn’t make a lot of sense to me, was that he was throwing out Brissett’s 2017 season within their collective evaluation.
This would be a massive mistake. Why?
Well, it’s not only the things that you’d want to sort of throw out when considering what Brissett was battling through in 2017, but it’s all of the advantages he was given in 2019.
Given everything Brissett struggled with in 2017 — field vision, accuracy, decision making — those same struggles were there most of the year this go-around as well. Another less-mentioned issue that appeared to still be eating Brissett’s development, was his lack of ability to command the line of scrimmage.
He wasn’t able to help the offensive line with getting into protections accounting for free rushers, he wasn’t effective in moving receivers/tight ends around to help the O-line in that regard, and he even lacked the ability to simply change run to pass, or the direction of the play. For me, these were the largest areas where the offense truly missed Andrew Luck. His pre-snap ability was a very underrated part of his game.
But, for Ballard to discount Brissett’s 2017 season, is to also discount his lack of development when it should have been shown on a much larger scale this year. Quite honestly, we just didn’t see much development, and we certainly should have.
It’s almost scary how similar these two seasons are in terms of Brissett’s overall statistical output. Brissett’s backfield was much better this year (2017: 3.7 YPC — 2019: 4.5 YPC) and averaged nearly 30 yards more per game, his O-line was worlds better than the 2017 version, and believe it or not, his receiving corps was actually better this year too. Brissett didn’t have the luxury of a healthy T.Y. Hilton all season, but I’m taking Zach Pascal and Nyheim Hines over Kamar Aiken and Donte Moncrief all day every day.
Even Marcus Johnson was considerably better this year than either of those two from the 2017 WR group, and even though Eric Ebron was a bust this year, he and Jack Doyle outgained the 2017 TE group as their was ultimately no TE2 for Brissett to go to in that first year.
Without dragging this on, Brissett was only slightly better this year (up to 60.9% this year from 58.8% in 2017), he actually threw for 168 fewer yards this season (virtually a push), his touchdown percentage was up this year to 4% (from 2.8% in ‘17), and his interception percentage was virtually identical.
His yards per attempt, first downs, yards per completion, yards per game were all nearly the same when comparing these two seasons as well. And if you care about AV (Pro Football Reference’s ‘Approximate Value’), his 2017, and 2019 seasons were identical to his value to the team (11).
However, one big difference was the sack percentage that went down from 10% in 2017 to 5.7% this season — that’s 25 fewer sacks this year.
So, his two seasons in which he started 15 games he was sacked nearly half the time in 2019 than 2017, and he had identical seasons for the most part? With a much better offensive mind and play-caller feeding him? With a much better running game to take the pressure off of him? Against an easy schedule? And he didn’t even throw for 3,000 yards?
Call me crazy, but this seems quite relevant. Why wasn’t he significantly better given his second year in the system, with a lot of the same skill position pieces, and his second ‘full’ season as the unquestioned starter? I don’t think Ballard can afford to discount anything he’s seen from Brissett.
Brissett was 31st in the league in Completed Air Yards per pass attempt (3.2), and per completion (5.3) above only Mason Rudolph. He was 27th in passing yards.. oh, and for some context, Ryan Tannehill played in only 10 games and threw for only 200 fewer yards. He was 26th in completion percentage and touchdowns, and 23rd in touchdown percentage, all while holding one of the top-10 sack percentages in the league.
With everything considered, I don’t even know if you can call that development.. can you? Not only should Ballard take Brissett’s 2017 season in to account when looking at his future with the team, but he should be asking why Brissett wasn’t considerably better this season.
I know i’d sure like to know.