The Indianapolis Colts Must Improve Their Passing Offense

[Jae C. Hong/AP]

The Indianapolis Colts are going to have to find ways to score with through their passing attack. When evaluating their statistics, their offensive line has to do a better job of blocking for Jacoby Brissett. While he also needs to play better as an individual, you can’t expect consistent excellence from a backup quarterback who has only been on his team for a short period with the supporting group of the Colts.

Indianapolis currently ranks last in the NFL in passing touchdowns with only two, but why? Well, an excellent place to start would be the fact that Brissett has just an average of 3.03 seconds (29th) to throw the ball. Before getting too in-depth about how he has been performing, the Colts must do a better job of protecting him. He has been the third most pressured quarterback so far this season, and those circumstances are profoundly challenging to succeed.

The main reason why the Colts haven’t had a dynamic passing attack is the fact that Brissett hasn’t been able to transcend the poor pass blocking by scoring touchdowns. He has just a 61.4% passer rating against pressure (20th) and only a 3.5% big time throw percentage (23rd). It’s hard to honestly place the blame entirely on Brissett for his protection under pressure when you have to take into account that he is under pressure more than any quarterback besides Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson.

Now, think about that for a moment and consider how often he is being pressured. Despite the frequency of pressure and his less than stellar execution in those situations, he currently has a 77.7 overall grade (13th) from Pro Football Focus and a 75.7% adjusted completion percentage (9th). I am impressed with his performance from an overview standpoint considering what he has to work with regarding pass protection and receiving options.

The Colts had a tough time blocking during last week’s matchup against the San Francisco 49ers. In fact, they earned a 51.7 average offensive lineman grade from Pro Football Focus for their performance in week five and that ranked 28th in the NFL. The only teams with a lower ranking were the Houston Texans, Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, and the Arizona Cardinals.

“The Colts rank 27th in pass-blocking efficiency, allowing 60 total pressures on 175 passing plays and while it’s an improvement from 2016 when they were last in the category, this might not comfort Colts fans. The return of center Ryan Kelly should help the unit, but so far left tackle Anthony Castonzo has been the only bright spot on the line — he’s actually tied for the highest run-blocking grade among tackles in the NFL at 87.3. In addition, the Colts overall struggle in the running game. With 40 outside zone plays this season – which is more than average – Colts running backs average minus-0.63 yards before contact on these plays, by far the fewest in the NFL.”

Despite their poor blocking production, the Colts did not struggle to move the ball downfield against the 49ers as they had 447 total yards of offense. They also didn’t have many problems moving the chains when it mattered most considering how they were 8-of-16 (50%) on third downs. This was by far their most productive day regarding total yards of offense all season despite the blocking not being different. The difference was that Brissett overcame the poor pass blocking and that Marlon Mack provided a genuinely dynamic element to the running game

Marlon Mack, Jacoby Brissett, and T.Y. Hilton persevered through the lousy blocking in week five. Mack had the highest PFF score (85.4) of the Colts’ offensive players, and he recorded 91 yards and a touchdown on 9 carries. Hilton earned a 78.9 rating with his 177 yards on 7 receptions. Brissett was 22-of-34 (64.7%) for 314 yards and an interception. As you can see, pressure has been a constant all season but this week it didn’t matter.

The main difference for the Indianapolis offense in week five was that they didn’t have in previous weeks was that Jacoby Brissett was dominant throwing under pressure. To put it into perspective, Brissett had more yards and a 32.6% higher completion percentage when throwing under pressure against the 49ers than he did in every previous game combined. However, he still didn’t have a passing touchdown nonetheless.

It gets interesting when evaluating Brissett’s execution in each main range. He has just a 76.3 rating (29th) on short throws, an 86.7 rating (20th) on intermediate throws, and a 108.1 rating (7th) on deep throws. It doesn’t take long to figure out why he has been successful going deep considering how Hilton is the team’s most frequent deep threat and he has an 81.1 overall grade. The rest of the team’s receivers all have poor grades and haven’t done much at all to make the game easier for Brissett.

Indianapolis needs to see much better execution from their offensive line’s pass blocking and their supporting cast receiver’s route running so they can have success in their short and intermediate passing game while also providing more time in the pocket for Brissett to continue to utilize his deep ball. I know that just described almost everyone involved in the passing game, but I never said that they were close to getting it all straightened out. As the game in Seattle showed, expecting Brissett to transcend this situation is not a viable option good defenses.

It also doesn’t help that Indianapolis lacks a great running game. While they currently lead the league in rushing touchdowns with eight and average 100 rushing yards (17th), they are averaging only 3.4 yards per rushing attempt (T-27th). Most of those touchdowns have come from punching the ball in at the goal line because their passing game can’t be trusted in the red zone. If they were able to have a more dynamic running game, the play action would be far more feared and it would keep the defense honest, which would make the game easier for Brissett.

I’m not even saying that if Jacoby Brissett were to have sufficient pass blocking that his production on short and intermediate throws would experience a significant improvement and that he would be able to put the ball in the end zone with his arm and not his legs more. What I’m trying to say is that the Indianapolis Colts aren’t giving him the opportunity to show that he is capable of doing those things because of their terrible pass protection, lack of execution from their role player receivers, and a non-threating running game.

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About Grant Afseth 203 Articles
Grant Afseth is the lead Indiana Pacers writer for and founder of Indiana Sports Coverage.

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