When the Indianapolis Colts began the 2017 football season getting rocked 46-9 by the Los Angeles Rams in week 1, it looked like a sign the Colts defense was going to be truly dreadful this season. However, Indianapolis’s offense yielded 16 of those points to the Rams on two interception returned for touchdowns plus a safety. And although it turns out the Los Angeles offense, which scored at least 30 in three wins already (and 20 against a very stout Washington Redskins unit in week 2), may also be very good, Jared Goff and company benefited with excellent field position in that opener against the Colts. Thanks to Scott Tolzein’s ineptitude, L.A. got five drives starting at the 40-yard line or better in addition to the free scores on turnovers.
Indeed, after three weeks, Indy has the 15th best defense by DVOA after being projected as the 30th. It’s still mighty early in the season but that unit has quite outperformed expectations, while the key variable in the Colts success so far has rather been quarterback play.
Tolzein was disastrous in his only effort, throwing 50 percent completions to go with the two interceptions and four sacks—his ANY/A was less than a yard per pass, and his QBR an abysmal 8.4. Jacoby Brissett, who had only joined Indianapolis during the great roster scramble a week before the season, wasn’t a whole lot better in relief, going 22 for 40 for 267 yards in the first two games, and throwing the interception deep in Colts territory that cost Indianapolis the game against the Arizona Cardinals in overtime. By that point in the season, the Colts were still without a passing touchdown and Brissett’s QBR versus Arizona was still a lowly 21.2—29th out of 32 starters that week.
But Indianapolis, and particularly Brissett, bounced back big against the Cleveland Browns a week ago. The Colts tripled their season touchdown total with four in the first half, while Brissett posted that week’s third-highest QBR with a blistering 88.1.
(If that doesn’t show how weird the NFL has been through three, almost four weeks in 2017, the quarterbacks above Brissett in week 3 were the two-headed monsters of the 2016 Rams attack, Case Keenum, now with the Minnesota Vikings, and Jared Goff. Blake Bortles was fourth.)
The Browns dont have a stellar defense or anything, but Brissett’s numbers were impressive for any matchup, with a completion percentage more than 70 percent on nearly 11 yards per attempt. Brissett threw his first career passing touchdown, and also ran for two more.
I tried to watch tape on Indianapolis during the week, but this wildly irregular quarterback play—essentially three different players in three games, considering the difference between the Brissett who was still getting used to his teammates and offensive system in week 2 and the Brissett who was far more comfortable against Cleveland—make it really hard to know what kind of offensive performance the Colts will be able to serve against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday night.
Despite the improvement, Indianapolis still has the league-worst DVOA on that side of the ball, but is clearly suffering the statistical weight of playing the stiff Tolzein and newcomer Brissett early on. If Brissett continues to look like his week 3 self, his varied skill set could present a real challenge to Seattle as Alistair Corp highlighted Friday.
Brissett was similarly a wild card as a rookie with the New England Patriots, first entering as a surprise late following a Jimmy Garoppolo injury in a week 2 win over the Miami Dolphins then putting up solid enough numbers in a very conservative gameplan (11 of 19, 5.4 yards per attempt) to support a shutout over the Houston Texans. But Brissett then presided over a Patriots skunking by the Buffalo Bills, generating no points and few yards as New England fell 16-0 in the last game before Tom Brady returned from his suspension. That was the Patriots’ only loss except to the Seahawks in 2016.
It’s a very unlikely portrait for Brissett suddenly becoming one of the NFL’s best signal callers, but it’s also difficult to hold a rookie third-stringer’s numbers against him when he was playing far ahead of schedule in those days. The alternative narrative is, now that Brissett has had some pro seasoning and also a few weeks to get used to his surroundings and teammates in Rob Chudzinski’s offense, he might have a chance to thrive in Andrew Luck’s absence.
As shown by its win over New England last season, Seattle’s defense presents a harrowing challenge for any quarterback, but if Brissett can solve it tonight that will go a long way toward brightening his future in this league—and clarifying the short term for Indianapolis.