INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s a delicate balance between being aggressive while not putting the football – and your team – at risk.
Push the ball down the field, fit it into tight spaces when necessary and generate plays in the passing game that can swing the momentum.
But take care of the football.
“Being a quarterback in the NFL, that’s understood,’’ said Brian Hoyer.
Hoyer is in his 11th season and the Indianapolis Colts are his eighth team. One of his career constants? Ball security. He’s delivered 48 touchdowns while suffering 30 interceptions in 65 games. Thirteen interceptions came during one season.
“If you were to ask any quarterback, offensive coordinator, head coach, ‘What’s the No. 1 key on offense?’, protect the ball is probably one of the top three,’’ Hoyer said. “If you’re giving the other team more chances than you have, you don’t really give yourself a chance to win.’’
That brings us to Jacoby Brissett. Through 20 career starts, he’s found that reward/risk balance. Consider: 20 touchdowns and just eight interceptions on 620 attempts.
And then there’s the efficient start to this season, which has Brissett residing in extremely rare company. He’s tossed seven touchdowns against one interception.
That rare company? The only QBs in Colts history with at least seven touchdown passes and no more than one interception in the first three games:
- Peyton Manning, who did it twice (2004 and ’10)
- John Unitas (1964)
Frank Reich stresses ball security. It begins in mid-April, intensifies during OTAs and training camp, and is a weekly point of emphasis throughout the season.
“More games are lost than won,’’ he’s said a zillion times.
That’s why understanding and mastering that in-game balance is so critical for the quarterback.
“We say there are two sides to the same coin,’’ Reich said. “On one side of the coin is aggressiveness. On the other side of the coin is discipline. Those two need to be in play all the time.
“We want you to be aggressive, but you need to be disciplined. We want you to trust your instincts – that’s also on the side of the coin – but also keep your poise and don’t overreact. So those are the things that great players are able to do to keep those two things in check.’’
The Colts’ 2-1 start has been built on not aiding the opposition. They’ve been penalized 15 times, second-fewest in the league, for a league-low 114 yards. In Sunday’s 27-24 win over Atlanta, they were flagged four times for 39 yards. The Falcons? Sixteen times for 128 yards. The Colts benefitted from seven first downs via Atlanta penalties.
Indy’s two turnovers in three games – a Brissett interception and fumble against the Titans – are tied for third-fewest in the league. The Colts have been turnover-free in seven of Brissett’s 20 starts.
“That’s always the goal,’’ Reich said. “Our goal every game is no turnovers. We want to protect the ball – no turnovers and then obviously minimize penalties.’’
No player has more impact on eliminating, or at least limiting, turnovers than the QB.
Throughout his truncated career, Andrew Luck was a touchdown machine. He tossed 171 in 86 regular-season games, including a league-best 40 in 2014. But he also would suffer an occasional bonehead – his description – interception. Overall, there were 83, including 28 in his first 20 starts.
It’s premature to compare the career arcs of Luck and Brissett, but it’s clear ball security is part of Brissett’s DNA. His interception against the Titans snapped a string of 167 passes without one. It was the fifth-longest streak in team history.
“It’s obviously something that we’re stressing and working on,’’ Brissett said. “The less amount of times we give them the ball is the less amount of times they have the ball and the more chances we have to do good things with it.’’
Remaining aggressive while avoiding risky passes, he added, involves “understanding the plan and how we’re going to attack a defense. If it’s a big game that we need to take shots in and stuff like that, then you’re a little bit more aggressive. But other than that, you just continue to take what they give us.’’
As much as avoiding interceptions can be about the game plan, it’s also about the player with the football in his hands.
“That is instincts, too,’’ coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “All good players have instincts. They obviously have great skill, but they all have great instincts and Jacoby has an instinct of taking care of the ball.
“One part of that is we take what they give us and a lot of that credit goes to Jacoby, obviously.’’
While the influence of Reich, Sirianni and quarterbacks coach Marcus Brady is undeniable, it’s worth noting Brissett suffered just seven interceptions in 15 starts and 469 attempts during the forgettable 2017 season that included him enduring a league-high 52 sacks.
Again, ball security is engrained in him.
“Yeah, that speaks to the level of his play,’’ Sirianni said.
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