Jacoby Brissett is now “The Guy” at quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. He’s been put in this situation before; he started most of the 2017 season in place of an injured Andrew Luck. But this time, he has better players around him, more experience, and a coach who has a history of being able to tailor a successful offense around a backup quarterback. Let’s take a closer look at Brissett’s situation and see if he has what it takes to take advantage and earn a large contract at the end of the season.

His Offensive Line

When analyzing the Colts offense, the obvious place to start is up front with the offensive line that was much improved a season ago. The Colts invested a lot of draft capital in 2018 to pair guard Quenton Nelson and tackle Braden Smith with veterans Mark Glowinski, Anthony Castonzo, and Ryan Kelly. In return, they received one of the best offensive line units in the NFL. 

Last season, the Colts ranked fifth (30.7%) in Pressure% Allowed, first (2.6%) in Sack% Allowed, and sixth (6.5%) in Pass Blown Block%. They achieved all of this while also allowing Andrew Luck to average an Average Depth of Target (ADoT) of 7.6 yards. This means Luck was able to sit in the pocket long enough to push the ball downfield at a close to league average rate while also not being pressured. 

The offensive line being able to replicate last season’s performance will be crucial to helping Brissett succeed. After all, we saw how a poor line mixed with an inexperienced quarterback derailed the Colts in 2017.

Brissett vs. Luck Pressured%
SeasonPlayerADoTPressured%Blown Block Pressured%
2017Jacoby Brissett7.543.9%14.9%
2018Andrew Luck7.630.6%6.5%

As the table above illustrates, Brissett saw much more pressure in 2017 than Luck did last season. Even when accounting for only pressures that resulted from blown blocks — pressures that can be directly attributed to the line and not on the quarterback for holding the ball too long — Brissett still saw quite a bit more pressure. He faced pressure from a blown block on almost 15% of dropbacks, compared to Luck, who faced the same type of pressure on only 6.5% of dropbacks last season.

His Weapons

Brissett relied heavily on wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle in 2017. They received 111 targets and 107 targets respectively, while the next closest Colt was targeted only 48 times. This time around, Brissett should have the opportunity to spread the ball around more. The Colts have upgraded their weapons alongside Hilton and Doyle by adding large-bodied receiver Devin Funchess, now-Pro Bowl tight end Eric Ebron, threat out of the backfield Nyheim Hines, and second-round rookie receiver Parris Campbell.

Funchess could be an interesting target out of the slot, since he had a knack for earning targets from that position last season with the Panthers. He earned 8.9 Targets Above Expectation, which was the fourth-highest among receivers in the slot last season. 

Funchess and Ebron should combine to provide some nice red zone targets as well.

2018 Red Zone Receiving Production

Eric Ebron211257%
Devin Funchess12758%

This production should help Brissett improve his poor play in the red zone. On his 43 red zone attempts in 2017, he had a Positive% — percent of plays with a positive EPA — of only 25%. This ranked 35th out of 36 quarterbacks with 25 red zone attempts that season. 

The running game supporting Brissett should also be improved. Thanks to the upgraded offensive line, the trio of Marlon Mack, Jordan Wilkins, and Hines had a combined Rushing Positive% of 47% last season. This was much higher than Frank Gore’s Positive% of 37% during Brissett’s season as the starter.  

His Accuracy

An improved offensive line and better weapons should help, but they won’t add up to much if Brissett can’t complete more passes. Completing passes at a high rate has been an issue for him going back to college, where over his two seasons at North Carolina State he completed only 60% of his attempts.

Brissett has also only completed 59% of his passes since he’s been in the NFL. This will need to improve if he wants to take the next step. The good news for him and the Colts is that while his Completion% has been below average, his overall accuracy falls in the same range as other young quarterbacks over their first season-plus as a starter.

Catchable Throw% for High Profile QB’s with 10-25 Starts over the Last 3 Seasons

PlayerAll ThrowsClean Pocket ThrowsPlay-Action ThrowsThrows in 12 Personnel
Baker Mayfield75.90%76.10%73.4%77.2%
Patrick Mahomes75.40%76.90%76.3%74.0%
Deshaun Watson74.30%75.60%73.5%76.0%
Sam Darnold73.70%73.90%79.6%82.1%
Jacoby Brissett72.20%74.60%72.8%74.3%
Josh Allen69.40%69.70%75.0%69.7%
Josh Rosen67.40%69.70%64.9%57.6%

Brissett compares relatively well to these more high profile quarterbacks over his first season-plus as a starter. Also, his splits in play-action, clean pocket, and in 12 personnel bode well for success this season. The Colts like to throw the ball out of 12 personnel (57% Pass% out of 12 last season) to take advantage of having Ebron and Doyle at tight end, and their offensive line should provide a lot of clean pockets. 

It should also be noted that Frank Reich’s offense helped Andrew Luck achieve a Catchable Throw% of 78.6% and a career-high Completion% of 67.3%. This was an increase of 3.8 percentage points from his previous high under coach Chuck Pagano. With Reich’s offense, better personnel around him, and a lot more experience this time around, it’s well within reason to expect Brissett to make a similar jump in Completion% this season. 

His Big Plays and Turnovers

Brissett should have an improved offensive line, more weapons, and a better scheme that should provide him more easy completions this season. But, can he do the extra things, such as create big plays while also limiting turnovers, that separate good quarterbacks from great quarterbacks?

Well, he has already shown the ability to take care of the ball and limit turnovers. In 2017, he only had an interception-worthy throw rate — percent of pass attempts that resulted in an interception or would have been an interception but were dropped by the defender — of 2.7%, which ranked ninth in the league (minimum 200 attempts). That was better than Russell Wilson (3.1%) and Philip Rivers (3.1%).

A part of his low interception-worthy throw rate can be attributed to the fact that Brissett was risk-averse; only 9.6% of his throws traveled 20+ yards. His performance on these throws was also relatively poor, with a Catchable Throw% of only 43.2% (23rd among quarterbacks with 25+ attempts) and a Completion% of 31.8% (ranked 15th). If he can improve his deep passing while also continuing to take care of the ball, he will take a huge step forward.

Final Word

For a team that has been put in the difficult position of having their franchise quarterback surprisingly retire two weeks before the season, the Colts are still in a good position. They have a young quarterback with some experience that has the potential to be an above-average starter. They also have the pieces in place on offense for Jacoby Brissett to flourish this season, if he can continue to improve in key areas such as the red zone, accuracy, and creating big plays. So, while it’s understandable for Colts fans to be disappointed with Andrew Luck’s early retirement, they should be excited to watch Brissett attempt to become the new face of the franchise.

2017 Summary

Completion Pct58.8%
Catchable Pct71.9%
Passer Points (Rank)51.9 (15)
Rusher Points (Rank)-4.6 (29)

2017 Points Earned Per Attempt Ranks (40 Quarterbacks with 150+ Attempts)

vs Man27427
vs Zone23312
Deep Plays448
Clean Pocket33927
* Points Earned is an SIS total value statistic that distributes Expected Points Added value to the players involved on a play based on their specific involvement, as measured by charting data. For more info, see this article that introduced it.