INDIANAPOLIS – Offensive creativity and innovation has always been a staple of Frank Reich.
It’s a part of what makes him such a high-level offensive mind in the NFL.
Whether it’s lining Andrew Luck up at wideout, Quenton Nelson at fullback or the constant pre-snap motion and misdirection we have seen from the Colts over the last two years, nothing should be all that surprising with Reich designing and scripting.
But what Reich shared earlier this week about a possible playing role for backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett in 2020 caught many by surprise.
“Jacoby is still on the roster so there’s nothing saying Jacoby couldn’t still play some, even though he’s not going to be the starter,” Reich began, unprompted.
“Nick (Sirianni) and I have already been talking about this. Well, ‘What does it look like if Jacoby plays 5-to-7 plays a game?’ We are certainly talking about that, open to that. We will keep all options open. Whatever it takes to win.”
When first hearing a comment like this, it initially sounded like a college head coach trying to appease a 5-star freshman quarterback who is not likely to win the starting job.
But this is professional football, and Brissett isn’t even under contract past the 2020 season. Transferring isn’t allowed.
So, if Reich is serious about entertaining such a package for Brissett, what would that look like?
“We think Jacoby has some unique gifts,” Reich adds. “Everybody knows who Jacoby is, he is not Lamar Jackson as far as speed, but Jacoby is tough to bring down. So there are situations on the field and circumstances that we have a lot of trust in Jacoby. We were really good in a couple areas last year on offense. I don’t want to go into these in-depth, but there were a couple situational-football areas that we were really good at. A big part of the reason was because of Jacoby.”
There’s two key parts to what Reich said that must be addressed with any package involving Brissett.
First, what are the ‘unique’ individual characteristics that you’d bring onto the field with Brissett under center?
The most frequent attribute we see in these small packages involving different QBs often comes with providing a speed element with their legs to the game.
It’s that dual-threat pressure which can force a defense to scramble a bit knowing that a different style guy is taking snaps.
But that’s not Brissett’s game.
His ‘speed’ numbers at the 2016 NFL combine ranked at, or near, the bottom of the other quarterbacks who participated. Brissett averaged 4.1 yards per rush last season, which ranked 26th in the NFL among other QBs. While Brissett has shown an ability to shed various pass rushers off of his 6-4 and 238-pound frame, those plays come off-script and not with designed schemes to get him into the open field using his legs.
So if that’s not an advantage, why would the Colts want Brissett on the field for a handful of plays a game, which is an element to the game that Philip Rivers has never had to deal with in his entire career, even with the more dynamic Tyrod Taylor as his backup last year?
The Colts, with Brissett at quarterback, were a very good team on 4th down last year (6th), and in the red zone (6th). They also excelled in short-yardage situations on third down. Did that come from Brissett making the right pre-snap reads to get the Colts into proper run plays? While that could very well be true, the intellect of Rivers has often been mentioned as one of his greatest strengths.
Maybe Brissett is used for a QB sneak or two (something Rivers has not done really at all in recent years) each week? But is breaking up the rhythm of Rivers under center for 5-to-7 plays that necessary, when there doesn’t appear to be a key specific trait that would force defenses to really alter their game plan?
Unlike Taysom Hill with the Saints, or the small role we saw from Marcus Mariota off the bench in the postseason with the Titans, there isn’t a clear individual feature that Brissett has shown which makes this possibility obvious.
It’s a mystery to see which ways the Colts feel having Brissett taking a handful of snaps would be a necessary change of pace.
Still, even if this idea never comes to fruition, the Colts still have a valuable backup asset in Brissett, one that Reich still thinks can start in this league.
And someone the Colts believe has a needed role for them in 2020, no matter the amount of money he is making.
“The answer to that is yes,” Reich says when asked if he thinks Brissett can still be a starter in the NFL. “Jacoby is still learning and growing. He’s a young quarterback and played a lot of good football last year. For crying out loud, we got off to a 5-2 start, which was crazy, and beat a lot of good teams in doing that. I think the arrow is up (on Brissett). We talked about (going from starter to backup). It’s a hard time. But the general principle is this, and having been through this as a player on teams that went to Super Bowls, where I was a backup quarterback and played in games that were instrumentally important to us in getting homefield advantage and that kind of thing, everybody knows what our goal is and knows that we want to win a championship, so the message is, every person on the roster counts. To me, you better have a backup quarterback, a guy that can step in and win 2 or 3, or however many, games it takes if the starter gets dinged up. And we have that in Jacoby. He’s already proven that.
“The message to Jacoby is his contract year is up (at the end of 2020) so just have your best year, whatever that looks like. Have your best year and be ready to go. Those games get weighted very heavily for all of Colts Nation and for everyone. I think it’s exciting. I know in one way it’s disappointing for a backup, but at the same time, because Jacoby is such a good teammate, you know we are excited about the trajectory of our team and he’s an important part of it.”