Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich sees what everybody else does in his offense lately.
In stating the obvious on Wednesday, Reich conceded the Colts must bolster yards per catch in the passing game in Sunday’s important home game against the AFC South Division rival Tennessee Titans.
The Colts and Titans are among four 6-5 teams vying for what is likely the sixth and final AFC playoff spot, presuming neither makes up ground on the division-leading Houston Texans (7-4).
The Colts are coming off a 20-17 loss at Houston on Thursday that essentially put them two games behind the Texans because they don’t have the tiebreakers in common opponents or conference record. And perhaps the most telling statistic in that setback was quarterback Jacoby Brissett passing for just 129 yards and a paltry 4.7 yards per catch.
Despite being short-handed at wide receiver due to injuries and having four-time Pro Bowl star T.Y. Hilton limited to three catches for 18 yards in his return from a three-game absence with a calf strain, targets were open but Brissett typically didn’t see them.
His tendency to hold onto the football couldn’t have been more magnified in a game the Colts could have won. The Colts are tied for 25th in yards per reception at 6.5. Reich suggested the team doesn’t focus so much on how the team ranks against all of the other teams, just the Colts opponent on game day. Fair enough — the Texans popped four pass plays of 30-plus yards and averaged 9.6 yards per catch.
“The big thing is, and you guys all know this, the big stat in the pass game is yards per attempt. That’s no secret. Everybody knows that. So we just need to get our yards per attempt up.
“You get that by chunk plays, but not just by chunk plays. You get that by being efficient in the passing game. You can throw it short and have a long run. You can throw it short and just have a high completion percentage and you’re still going to get your yards per attempt up. It’s just overall efficiency of the pass game. We just need to be a little bit more productive there.”
So what did Reich say to Brissett?
“I mean, we just move on,” Reich said. “When we talk to Jacoby, we take it play by play and we look at how we can do better. But like we’ve said many times, one thing I know for sure is when we don’t get to where we want to get to offensively, it’s all of us. I really believed that. That game was indicative of that.
“Sitting there watching games (last) weekend, I’m more encouraged by the things we are doing well. We need to be better in the passing game. That’s all of us. The thing with Jacoby, he’s so mentally tough. He’s like the rest of us, we all want to take responsibility, but he’s doing a good job.”
Despite the loss of leading rusher Marlon Mack three games ago, the Colts have continued to thrive in the run game. They’s improved to third in rushing offense at 144.2 yards per game, thanks to backup Jonathan Williams contributing back-to-back 100-yard-plus efforts, the first of his four-year career.
But that means it’s imperative that the Colts find some balance with the passing game because defenses are going to continually crowd the line of scrimmage with more players to force Brissett to beat them.
Brissett, who is two games removed from suffering a left MCL knee sprain, ranks 14th in passer rating at 95.7 among quarterbacks with 100 attempts and 24th in passing yards at 1,926. He usually takes care of the ball, throwing 15 touchdown passes versus four interceptions with three lost fumbles, but the lack of decisiveness in taking a chance on some throws has been a common criticism.
Lest anyone forget, the group of guys entrusted with catching Brissett’s passes are still banged up, too. Hilton will be limited in practice this week, so it’s unknown how much he can contribute against the Titans. Reich has already ruled out wide receiver Devin Funchess, who is on injured reserve after undergoing surgery to repair a broken clavicle in the season opener. The Colts have until next week to decide on bringing Funchess back to the active roster.
Rookie wide receiver Parris Campbell is also on the mend from surgery to repair a hand fracture. The team will take a look at whether he can make plays, perhaps wearing a special glove. He’s missed the last three games.
Tight end Eric Ebron, who made the Pro Bowl with a career year in 2018 before disappointing this season, was placed on injured reserve on Monday with ankle injuries that reportedly require surgeries. That necessitated signing two tight ends, including Ross Travis, who last played in 2017 for the Colts and caught two passes for 33 yards in four appearances.