NFL Week 14 Preview: Why Brissett Is Still the Colts’ Future

Also, the Lions are making MVPs out of opposing quarterbacks, the Seahawks are falling on fumbles, the future of Foles, and death to the K-ball. Plus, musical guest: The Police!
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1. I had a hunch that Jacoby Brissett wouldn’t be Andrew Luck. My first clue was that they spell and pronounce their names differently. Ten full games into his first full season as a starter, Brissett has shown that he isn’t an MVP-caliber quarterback like Luck. But he has shown that he's the quarterback of the future in Indy.

The narrative of Brissett not being good enough has grown out of a combination of bad breaks, unrealistic expectations after two decades of Manning/Luck, and the unquenchable thirst for bad takes. During what has been a relative slump, the Colts have been without their top-two passing-game weapons (T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron) and arguably their top three or four if you include Parris Campbell and Devin Funchess. Before the receiving corps deteriorated due to injury, the Colts were sitting at 5-2 and Brissett was on pace for 3,600 yards, 32 TD passes and a 99.3 passer rating. Now left with Zach Pascal and the Funky Bunch, Brissett would surely kill for the kind of talent Tom Brady has with the slumping Patriots at the moment.

Then there was the injury to Brissett himself, which has shaded this season. Had he not sprained his MCL in Pittsburgh and finished the de-pantsing of the Steelers rather than turning it over to Brian Hoyer to, well, turn it over for the remainder of that game as well as the next one (an upset loss to Miami), Indy would be sitting at 8-4 right now. If their kicking game hadn’t devolved at a stunning rate (if you project points-per-kick based on league-average rates from inside-50-yard attempts, 50-plus attempts and PATs, Adam Vinatieri is a league-worst -11.9 on the year while opposing kickers against the Colts are +7.4, fourth-best in the league), you could probably push that record to at least 9-3 (there were particularly egregious, arguably game-costing misses in losses to the Chargers in Week 1, and last week to Tennessee).

And, at the risk of getting too anecdotal, if Hilton, playing through injury, doesn’t have two crushing drops on a Thursday night at Houston (or if safety Malik Hooker doesn’t spend that night wandering aimlessly around the field as if he had stared into the eyes of the Hypnotoad), the Colts have a season sweep of the Texans and control of the AFC South.

At this point in his career, Brissett is a high-end game manager. He has the potential to develop into much more. Since the last time we saw him, he's become a faster processor. The arm talent, underrated touch and functional mobility aren't going anywhere. Giving up on him because of that one time he forced a throw that got intercepted while trailing late, while playing with a third-quarter-of-a-preseason-game receiving corps, is crazy talk. Almost as crazy as continuing to refer back to the 2017 season when he was thrown into the fire 15 days after he was acquired, surrounded by a Grigsonian roster (it’s like the folks who doubted Lamar Jackson as a passer based on his performance last season, or Aaron Rodgers after he struggled in mop-up duty his first two seasons, or Peyton Manning after he threw a ton of interceptions as a rookie—young players often improve, and Brissett has already).

If the Chiefs come calling with an offer of Mahomes for Margus Hunt, sure, go for it, but the thought of tabbing some toolsy prospect who was erratic at the collegiate level to replace the toolsy quarterback who was developing into a stud before injuries struck is nuttier than a facility that processes tree nuts. The Colts already have their quarterback of the future.

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2. If there’s one constant in the NFL this season, it’s that whatever quarterback faces the Detroit Lions is going to be billed as an MVP candidate by the time the game is over.

In six of the past seven games against Matt Patricia’s defense, the opposing QB has put up an approximately career-best performance. Here's a quick look at this run, with yards, passer rating and team points scored against the Lions (with 2019 season averages for each QB in parenthesis) . . .

Kirk Cousins: 338 yards, 141.5 passer rating, 42 points (244.9, 108.7, 25.2)
Daniel Jones: 322 yards, 124.2 passer rating, 26 points (226.1, 78.9, 19.2)
Derek Carr: 289 yards, 116.2 passer rating, 31 points (232.2, 97.0, 18.7)
Mitchell Trubisky, two-game average: 255.5 yards, 124.4 passer rating, 22.0 points (192.9, 85.0, 17.8)
Dak Prescott: 444 yards, 116.6 passer rating, 35 points (306.5, 96.3, 24.9)

They did shut down Dwayne Haskins though . . . 

Dwayne Haskins: 156 yards, 47.5 passer rating, 19.0 points (168.3, 78.6, 18.3)

So preemptive congratulations to Kirk Cousins, who by Sunday night will join Russell Wilson in the category of guys who objectively can’t be considered MVP over Lamar Jackson but will have their names mentioned as MVP candidates anyway because there's a news hole to fill.

Two seasons probably isn’t long enough to pull the plug on a coach (Bill Beilchick, who took over a team that hadn’t had a losing record the previous four seasons before he arrived, was 5-13 with the Patriots at one point). But time is a factor for the Lions. Matthew Stafford is an MVP-caliber quarterback, and his broken back is a reminder that he won’t play forever. The defense is objectively trending the wrong way under Patricia, and the roster quality continues to objectively trend the wrong way under the man who brought Patricia in, GM Bob Quinn, whose monstrous investment in the offensive line has resulted in a middling group, and who is doing things like giving away good players for reasons unknown (Seattle once again thanks you for Quandre Diggs).

In 2020, the Stafford window will still be open (especially if offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is still there after the tremendous first season he's had in Detroit). The defense is the question mark, and it's time to at least consider whether or not they have the right coach in place. Because Quinn has made the roster worse, but not that much worse. Look at what Matt Eberflus has done with an underwhelming cast of defensive players in Indianapolis. Now imagine Matt Eberflus running this Lions defense. (And now imagine running from a lion that has the body of a lion and the head of Matt Eberflus. That was a dream I had the other night. It was terrifying.)

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3. I’ve been pointing out the Seahawks’ various statistical anomalies this season to prove why their success isn’t sustainable. So, considering they’re now 10-2, allow me to do them a favor by pointing out one more.

The Seahawks have 16 fumble-recovery takeaways this season, guaranteeing they will be the first team since 2015 (Washington) to average at least a fumble-recovery takeaway per game. No team has had more than 16 in a season since 2012 (when New England had 21 and Chicago 20). Considering all 10 of their victories have come by eight or fewer points, and they’ve had multiple fumble-recovery takeaways in five of those games, taking the ball away via fumble at a, frankly, unsustainable rate has been a very big deal.

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4. The Nick Foles thing seemed like it wasn’t going to work in Jacksonville based on the Jaguars’ receiving corps—aside from D.J. Chark, they don’t have the kind of big contested-catch guys Foles liked to go to in Philly, not to mention the lack of a tight end. But 11 quarters of football is an absurdly quick hook for a guy you just gave $50 million in guarantees. And who played pretty good football in January the past two seasons, which you would think would outweigh the 11 quarters this season and was presumably the reason you shelled out $50 million in guarantees despite being in salary-cap hell in the first place. Really, it was an incredible show of conviction to sign him last offseason, then a complete reversal in a 4-8 season despite the fact that he’s missed most of it.

The Jaguars’ options for mitigating the pain of that contract would be, as USA Today’s Steven Ruiz mentioned, an Osweiler-to-the-Browns type deal. The Colts, Dolphins and Bills are all prime candidates, and though the Browns settled for a second-rounder from Houston to take on Osweiler, those teams should be asking Jacksonville for the mid-to-late first the Jags got from the Rams in the Jalen Ramsey trade—after all, this Foles deal would cost a team twice as much as the Browns had to pay Osweiler.

Or, the Jaguars can pass on a quarterback next spring and re-open the competition between Foles and Gardner Minshew, who has struggled for most of 2019 but who has a backstory and a moustache and wears clothes that don’t look like the clothes that other people wear.

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5. As most of you remember, the two biggest challenges facing the country in the late-90s were the Y2K virus and kickers aggressively breaking in footballs. While, historically, the NFL has struggled to come up with solutions to the problems that plague the league and the sport, they are unrivaled when it comes to acting on issues that don’t exist. Thus, 1999 brought the introduction of the K-ball.

The K-ball has been mostly an annoyance for kickers and punters—league-wide, field-goal percentage rose from 77.0% in the 1990s to 80.5% in the 2000s to 83.7% in the 2010s. However, in 2019, the field-goal success rate has dropped to below 80% for the first time in more than 15 seasons (currently 79.8%). It’s a confluence of factors: a strong crop of veteran kickers aging out or struggling, a slight increase in injuries, and the Chicago Bears’ terrible ideas among them.

But considering how badly the current crop of officials tend to mangle game administration and the confusion that can come with having to switch out the game ball for the K-ball (see end of the first half in Broncos-Chargers), and considering no one really likes bad kicking anyway, and considering how many people on Twitter are poised with jokes about kickers getting to break the balls in more but implying “balls” refers to their testicles rather than footballs, retiring the K-ball is probably the best for everyone.

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6. Ladies and gentlemen . . . The Police!

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