INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – There should be no disagreement when stepping back and assessing Jacoby Brissett’s first start with the Indianapolis Colts, even considering that one play he’d love to have back.
He represented a noticeable upgrade over Scott Tolzien.
But more than that.
“I thought the quarterback gave us a chance to win,’’ Chuck Pagano offered.
That chance, though, came with little or no margin for error. Every mistake is magnified: Jack Mewhort’s false start on first-and-goal at the 7; Kenny Moore II missing a fair-catch signal and running into the punt returner; Brissett’s game-sealing interception on the first play of overtime in Sunday’s 16-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.
And until Andrew Luck transition from “training mode’’ to practice to actually playing, that’s probably going to be the case.
Until Brissett is able to gain a fuller grasp of coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s offense and his supporting cast elevates its game, winning is going to be a risky proposition.
Clearly, 9 points against the Rams and 13 against the Cardinals weren’t enough. But that’s been the case.
Today’s history lesson, which isn’t that surprising considering the NFL’s offensive environment: the Colts have lost 19 straight regular-season games when scoring 13 or fewer points, and 22 of their last 25.
The last time they scored 13 or fewer and won? Nov. 30, 2008 when Robert Mathis’ 37-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter was the difference in a 10-6 win over the Browns in Cleveland.
Yes, the Browns, who visit Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday. In fact, Cleveland has been the cure for what has ailed the Colts when they’ve had a sickly offense. One of the other two victories when Indy has scored 13 or fewer points came in 2005, a 13-6 nod.
Moving forward, it’s on Brissett to gain more confidence in Chudzinski’s system, and on Chudzinski to determine which chapters of the playbook best suit Brissett’s skill set.
More than that, it’s on Brissett’s supporting cast to quit making things more difficult than they already are. As if the Cardinals didn’t offer enough resistance, his offensive line and wide receivers were more co-conspirators than colleagues.
Four linemen were penalized in the second half: false starts on Jeremy Vujnovich, Joe Haeg and Mewhort (the first-and-goal killer); a third-down hold on left tackle Anthony Castonzo with less than a minute remaining in regulation that was declined due to a Brissett incompletion. On second-and-2 at the Indy 21 with 55 seconds to play, Castonzo was beaten by Chandler Jones for a sack/strip/fumble that Brissett fell on.
The receivers? Brissett targeted them 23 times and came away with 9 completions, 98 yards and the OT interception, thrown at Kamar Aiken who was bracketed. That’s a 34.3 passer rating.
Donte Moncrief endured one of the worst games of his four-year career. His stat line: 8 targets, 2 catches, 18 yards. A couple of attempts to Moncrief were off the mark, but he also pulled up and short-armed a deep slant late in the second quarter on what would have been a gashing completion and lost a deep pass along the right sideline in the lights. Arizona cornerback Justin Bethel out-fought him on a third-and-2 slant in the third quarter.
Hilton finished with four catches and 49 yards, but he’ll be remembered most for slipping, diving and coming up 1 yard short on third-and-9 on the Colts’ first possession of the second quarter.
It was obvious, and understandable, that Brissett lacked chemistry with his wideouts. He had practiced three times with the first unit before starting against the Cardinals.
How long does it take for a new QB and his receivers to develop their timing?
“Hopefully not much longer,’’ Pagano said.
Hilton appeared unconcerned.
“It’s a process thing. We should be fine,’’ he said. “We’ve just got to score touchdowns, man. Defense played phenomenal.
“We just didn’t give them no help.’’
Pagano wasn’t pointing fingers as he looked back on the game, but it was clear he wanted more out of some of the players.
“We’ve got to make plays,’’ he said. “Guys got to. It’s all over the place. You’ve got opportunities . . . there’s plays to be made. You’ve got to make them.’’
Brissett did when targeting his tight ends. Jack Doyle had eight catches for 79 yards and four first downs on eight targets. Brandon Williams’ lone target produced a 20-yard catch-and-run.
Another week with the first unit should translate into Brissett being more comfortable with Chudzinski’s playbook. He should be more confident and efficient in certain situations, particularly in converting third downs and in the red zone.
“Starting to get a little more comfortable with everything, starting to learn a lot more,’’ Brissett said.
As the playbook expands, the Colts need to sprinkle in additional shots down the field. The offense is predicated on “chunk plays,’’ but against the Cardinals, it generated only one play that gained at least 20 yards – Williams’ catch – while Arizona punished Indy’s defense with eight.
“We have to take calculated risks,’’ Pagano said.
“You’ve definitely got to know what the risk is versus the reward,’’ he said. “When the opportunity presents itself, you’ve definitely got to try and capitalize.’’
More work during the week of practice can only enhance Brissett’s timing with his receivers.
“We’ve only been together not so long,’’ he said, “so you’ve got to kind of fast-track it and get after it.’’