Colts fall to Browns, but let’s talk QBs (Luck, Brissett, Kelly)

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - AUGUST 17: Jacoby Brissett #7 of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass before the preseason game against the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The focus filtered from the quarterback who isn’t playing, to the quarterback who might have to play, to the quarterback who won’t be eligible to play when the season opens.

From Andrew Luck working up a sweat and showing his increased agility in pregame warm-ups, to Jacoby Brissett making some strong throws during a second-quarter touchdown drive to Chad Kelly once again spinning some late magic.

The fact the Indianapolis Colts dropped a 21-18 decision to the Cleveland Browns Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium was secondary. This is the preseason, remember?

Until the Colts’ quarterback situation is resolved – we’re three weeks away from the Sept. 8 opener against the Los Angeles Chargers – everything else will be of secondary concern.

That includes the running game still going nowhere: backs have rushed 41 times for 105 yards in two games.

And that includes the Colts being pelted with yellow penalty flags 16 times for 164 yards, although that clearly ate at Frank Reich after the game.

Reich’s assessment of Saturday: “Some good, some bad, obviously a lot of room for improvement.’’

The quarterback update, though, was more encouraging.

First with Luck, and this was a matter of optics.

After missing the final 12 training camp practices with a strained left calf and ankle injury, Luck was the center of attention during pregame warm-ups. NFL Network caught and aired video of him working on sudden side-to-side movement. He slid laterally while stepping over bags, planted and threw.

That was one quarterback-specific move the injuries had been preventing Luck from performing at an acceptable level, according to general manager Chris Ballard.

Reich was busy with his own pregame regimen and wasn’t able to watch Luck’s individual work.

“It was a good workout,’’ Reich said, “but really, no further update other than he had a good workout today and we’ll evaluate it in the next couple of days.’’

It’s Reich’s desire to determine a starter for the opener after the third preseason game, which is Saturday’s meeting with the Chicago Bears at Lucas Oil Stadium.

There’s every chance that will be Luck, even with what will be a condensed preseason.

But there’s a possibility it will be Brissett, who bounced back from a lackluster preseason opener at Buffalo (2-for-5, 21 yards, a 52.9 rating) with a much crisper outing against the Browns (8-of-10, 100 yards, one TD, a 141.7 rating).

“Just a really good confidence-builder for our offense to get Jacoby to play like that,’’ Reich said. “That’s what we’ve been seeing in practice. It’s just good to have one in a preseason game.’’

The Brissett-led offense opened with a pair of ineffective drives – seven total plays, 26 yards, one first down, two punts – before getting its act together. The third possession was Brissett at his best: 6-for-6 for 87 yards.

It began with a 16-yard hookup with Devin Funchess and a 19-yarder to Jack Doyle, and ended with a 9-yard touchdown to Eric Ebron. In between, though, was Brissett’s finest moment.

On fourth-and-3 from the Indy 42, the Browns sent linebacker Mack Wilson on a blitz. Brissett deftly stepped to his right to avoid Wilson and fired a low fastball that Ebron scooped off the turf for a chain-moving 16-yard completion.

Reich was impressed.

“The one time there was a guy coming free, he avoids and makes the play to Ebron,’’ he said. “The throw on the touchdown was the only place he could put the ball.

“I could just feel (he) was in control. He was in a zone.’’

Reich noted Brissett’s confidence, ability to see the field and “his presence out there.’’

Brissett also was pleased with his bounce-back performance. In three series against the Bills, the No. 1 offense managed just 22 yards on 11 plays.

“Just confidence, man, to go out and do it in an actual game,’’ he said. “Last week the first team didn’t get a touchdown drive. Just to go out there and put 6 points on the board meant so much to us as a group.’’

While Luck has dealt with his injuries, Brissett has had total control of the No. 1 offense. Even though he’s the backup, he’s approached it as if he’s the starter.

“That’s the approach I take every time, no matter what,’’ he said.

Reich, the long-time NFL backup QB, has discussed with Brissett how to deal with his complicated role. Yes, he’s the backup, but he’s a play away – an injury away – from being the starter.

“I don’t think I need to talk to anybody about my approach to the game,’’ Brissett said. “We’ve had conversations about my role and how it’s similar to what his role was and how he approached the game. That helped me grow a lot.’’

Reich’s message to Brissett?

“We just tell him, ‘When you’re in, you’re the No. 1 quarterback. You’re the No. 1 quarterback until Andrew comes back. That’s the mindset you have to have. You’re the No. 1 guy. Be the No. 1 guy. Be that guy.’’’

For one series, Brissett was that guy.

After Phillip Walker took over for Brissett midway through the second quarter, it was Kelly’s turn to finish. As he did in the opener against the Bills, Kelly injected juice into the game.

“He’s got a good knack for making plays,’’ Reich said. “It’s not too big for him.’’

Kelly led four drives. The first produced a 24-yard touchdown to Ross Travis and the fourth died at the Cleveland 10 when linebacker Willie Harvey deflected his fourth-and-1 pass intended for Aca’Cedric Ware.

In two preseason games, Kelly has completed 25-of-36 passes for 236 yards, one TD and a 96.5 rating. But it’s worth reminding everyone he isn’t a consideration if the Colts opt to carry three QBs on the opening-day roster; he’s suspended for the first two game for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

By the way, the Colts had no intention of having rookie Cole Hedlund attempt a field goal that could have sent the game into overtime. Reich’s decision to attempt a 2-point conversion following Kelly’s TD to Travis was about managing the game at that time, not setting up a possible game-tying field goal.

“We were going for it,’’ Reich said. “The philosophy was we’re going to play the game like we’re trying to win the game until the last possible second.

“We don’t want a tie.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51

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