The shock from Andrew Luck’s abrupt retirement announcement is still present. In terms of recent sports memories this has to be in my top five, and no I’m not sure what my other four moments are.
Luck was a great quarterback healthy and certainly one of the best of this decade while playing most of his time with teams that looked more like rebuilding wastelands than the consistent playoff contenders Luck made them out to me. We can go over how he has never lost to the Titans at all, or how his early retirement is a sad reminder that those that start their young careers behind sub-par offensive lines are more likely to be heading for an early exit, but those are too obvious.
Instead, we’re here to talk about his replacement—at least for the time being—Jacoby Brissett. Titans fans are most likely familiar with Brissett after playing against him twice in 2017, both wins (close ones at that), and although he could not hold a candle to any healthy Luck season, I thought he did a nice job for a quarterback coming out of a backup role.
Brissett played in all 16 games and started 15 that year, completing 58.8% of his passes for 3,098 yards, 13 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions for a passer rating of 81.7. So if that’s the case, what’s so threatening—you might ask—about him returning to a starting role for 2019?
Well, for one thing Brissett was in the second season of his career. Not every quarterback gets to be like Patrick Mahomes and put up an all-time great season in his sophomore year. Many, many quarterbacks throughout league history are still progressing and adjusting to the speed of the NFL in contrast to the speed of college football. Brissett was no different in that regard, and entering year four he should have more experience and knowledge of the speed at the pro level.
Second, the cast around him is much improved two years later. The offensive line is notably one of the best in the league, including the magnificent left guard Quenton Nelson, center Ryan Kelly, left tackle Anthony Castonzo, and right tackle Braden Smith. T.Y. Hilton is one of the better receivers in the league, and the team added Parris Campbell and Devin Funchess to improve the depth on the wide receiving corps (yes Funchess is an improvement, somewhat). Marlon Mack is a very good back, and the tight end depth (featuring Eric Ebron, Jack Doyle, and Mo Alie-Cox) is astonishingly good.
Lastly, Frank Reich is a more quarterback friendly coach than Chuck Pagano. He set Luck up in more competent, versatile play calling environments, and combined with significantly improved pass protection allowed the Colts to thrive in the second half of 2018.
So we know enough about the environment surrounding Brissett, but now is the time to take a look at the man himself. Let’s blast back to the past and detail what makes the new Colts starting quarterback someone to take seriously the next time these two teams meet (which is in Week 2 in Nashville!).
First and foremost, Jacoby Brissett’s downfield passing accuracy was fantastic in 2017, ranking #1 in my annual charting of deep passing accuracy for the year. One of the best examples of such was on this play against the 49ers.
T.Y. Hilton is the circled receiver on this play, because he’s the guy Brissett targets. San Francisco manages to create edge pressure on the quarterback’s near side. No one is able to get open however, so Brissett is forced to step up and buy time.
Brissett waits until Hilton finds a zone to settle down in before fitting this in over two defenders’ heads for a spectacular play outside the pocket.
Brissett’s first read here is towards the receiver in the flat (#17) but it’s well covered by the 49ers. He wisely recognizes the edge pressure, evades it, and rolls out of the pocket. He comes back to #17 on his progressions before cycling over to Hilton. The result is a terrific pass with a ton of juice on it.
Arm talent is another trait Brissett has going for him; He can make all sorts of throws that skill set wise separate him from your garden variety backup quarterback. And as you correctly guessed, this can be essential for quality downfield passing.
While Brissett’s mobility isn’t the most outstanding, it’s still above average and worth mentioning as a strength of his. Anyway, Brissett throws this cannon on the run and off balance to (guess who) Hilton. And even then this still manages to travel 60 yards in the air, no small feat in of itself.
I’d imagine Reich and the Colts coaching staff has plans to incorporate situations where Brissett can make plays with his feet, both as a passer and as a scrambler. So that’s another thing to keep in mind three weeks before Week 2’s arrival.
Let’s take another look at Brissett’s accuracy, this time at a more intermediate level.
There’s no sugarcoating this play. We already know Brissett has his sites set on Jack Doyle (circled), but with a linebacker over the middle, the quarterback is not preparing for an easy pass.
Yet somehow, Brissett throws this on a rope, giving his tight end a chance to make a play where he and only he can.
I suppose if you wanted to play devil’s advocate you could say Brissett invited the defensive back into Doyle’s catching window (man that’s a strange term to use...) by staring him down and delaying his throw by a hair. Still, I’d counter by saying this is a perfect throw and one that is obviously catchable. Doyle had a few nasty drops similar to this, and this should be caught any way you look at it.
And just for the hell of it, let’s take a look at a play from this preseason.
An astute observer will recognize that this is a 4th and 3 (If you are one of those people, pat yourself on the back and reward yourself with a snack of some sort.).
Circled in red are two Browns defenders set to blitz Brissett.
This two-man blitz works well, at first, because Brissett is immediately pressure and forced to adjust his position in the pocket.
But without flinching, the quarterback keeps his eyes downfield and stays with his receiver, who just so happens to be Eric Ebron.
With impressive pocket movement and evasiveness, Brissett turns a possible sack and a turnover on downs into a fourth down conversion for 16 yards. Yeah it’s preseason so take this however you will, but for me it’s indicative of what the new Colts QB can do when given a chance to start.
Now, let me be clear; The Jacoby Brissett praise present here is not to suggest he’s a flawless quarterback. His field vision isn’t as quick as Luck’s (which is to be expected for a more raw, inexperienced prospect coming out of college), and while he’ll regularly attack tight windows, I don’t see him doing it at the rate Luck did. The drop in quick vision also results in mistakes, which is like saying fire can burn you.
With that said, I’ve always loved Brissett as a backup. He was a terrific deep ball passer in 2017, and his rocket arm, mobility, and play under pressure all put him a step above the average backup. He’s a starting caliber talent that’s ready to continue developing with a more talented roster and seeing where that development takes him career wise.
In conclusion, are Titans fans getting a drop off in quarterback play from Andrew Luck to Jacoby Brissett? Absolutely. But don’t expect a pushover to come into Nashville.