Editor’s note: We welcome in contributor Chris Blystone of Stampede Blue — our sister site covering the Indianapolis Colts — for “Five questions with the enemy” as we head into the Week 5 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Colts, set to take place at Arrowhead Stadium for Sunday Night Football.
1) We’ve made it four games into the season — based on what you’ve seen, is Jacoby Brissett a franchise quarterback? Why or why not?
As a Colts fan, I have to start the answer to this question recognizing my unique struggle to be reasonable in my assessment of quarterback play. We’ve experienced an embarrassment of riches at the quarterback position. We watched Peyton Manning dominate the NFL for more than a decade and then got Andrew Luck gift wrapped as his replacement.
In my lifetime as a football fan, I’ve known very little in terms of less-than-elite-level quarterback play. That makes Jacoby Brissett a tough read. Brissett does a lot of things that a franchise quarterback needs to do. He has the arm and accuracy to make every throw he needs to. He is big in size and has the ability to escape pressure and extend plays. Unlike some lesser passers, he doesn’t make stupid mistakes under pressure and is very careful with the ball. He has full command of the offense and is clearly a well-liked leader on the team.
Having said all that, there are some areas where Brissett is lacking. He is sometimes too careful for his own good. Frank Reich is great at designing easy reads that get guys wide open. When that is going well, Jacoby is on fire. When the windows are tighter against teams that play tough man coverage, he struggles. His desire to avoid a turnover can occasionally get in the way of taking a shot. Many times, he holds the ball too long, making the throw late as he waits for the receiver to get open rather than trusting that he will and taking the shot.
Lastly, Brissett has a tendency to lock on to his reads. He can sometimes progress slowly through them and get locked in, making him a target for defenders to jump his routes. When he has made mistakes in games, they have typically been as a result of this.
I’m not ready to say he is the guy yet. What we’ve seen so far is that he can win some games for you when surrounded by top talent, but he isn’t lifting the team like Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning could do when everything else fell apart. Maybe that is enough, and I’m just spoiled.
2) It has been an up-and-down season for the Colts, alternating wins and losses each week for a 2-2 record. What was the most significant problem for the Colts in their loss to the Raiders?
The biggest problem has been missing defensive starters. Darius Leonard has missed the last two games (and will miss Sunday’s game) with a concussion. It turns out, replacing an All-Pro linebacker with an unproven rookie works about as well as you’d expect. Anthony Walker has shifted into Leonard’s role as the WILL linebacker, and rookie Bobby Okereke was on the field as the MIKE. Both struggled a lot in both coverage and against the run.
Leonard is the tone-setter for the defense in every way. His absence has been rough, and it is also compounded by the loss of Malik Hooker at safety to a torn meniscus. With two of the best defensive players sidelined, Josh Jacobs had a field day.
3) Who is one offensive player for the Colts that should be getting more attention? Why?
The guy who consistently doesn’t get talked about enough and is a major offensive factor is tight end Jack Doyle. Doyle is an all-around great tight end, capable of making key blocks in the running game and being a crucial third-down option when you have to find a reliable player. While Colts fans love Doyle, he just doesn’t get a lot of love on a national level.
No one is confusing him with Travis Kelce, and he isn’t going to make even your grandmother miss a tackle. What he will do is reliably make catches in traffic, get the yards he needs to convert critical downs and spring some big runs with his sealing blocks. He is a security blanket and key cog in the offense, as well as being a quiet leader.
4) Who is one defensive player for the Colts that should be getting more attention? Why?
Based on the last couple of weeks, there haven’t been many players worthy of positive attention on defense, but one guy who has impressed is rookie safety Khari Willis. Willis was taken in the fourth round by the Colts, and in Malik Hooker’s absence, took 100% of the defensive snaps against the Raiders (Hooker will miss Sunday’s game).
He is far from perfect, lacking the natural athleticism and range of a guy like Hooker, but he has great instincts and is a very sound tackler stemming from his days as a wrestler. Willis is good for one or two plays per game where he sniffs out and shuts down a swing pass or screen and comes down hard to make the open field tackle. In ideal circumstances, he probably works best as the safety in the box opposite Hooker, but he is certainly a player to watch with great potential.
5) Justin Houston spent the first eight years of his career with the Chiefs before joining the Colts. How has he looked this season, and are you happy the Colts added the DE?
So far, Houston has been a lot of bark and not very much bite. He is getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks but has gotten home for just 1 sack. Jabaal Sheard, the Colts sack leader and best defensive lineman last year, was out the first three games with a knee injury and played sparingly against the Raiders. His absence allowed offenses to game plan for Houston, and that has seemingly minimized his impact.
The defensive line as a whole has been pretty disappointing. They jumped out to a good start, posting 8.0 sacks in their first two games. Since then, they’ve gotten just one, and that one was as a result of Derek Carr running out of bounds half a yard short of the line of scrimmage. Hardly inspiring.
The Colts needed to add talent to the defensive line, and I’m not ready to write Houston off, but I was certainly hopeful that his impact would be more immediate and significant in a role where he was exclusively asked to go get the quarterback without having to drop into coverage. Over the next few weeks as the line gets healthier and he gets comfortable in the defense it will be more telling. If he can’t get results, it will certainly feel like a big whiff for the front office.
Bonus: How does this game play out?
As a precursor, I always pick the Colts. Always.
This game is a uniquely difficult one for the Colts. T.Y. Hilton and Marlon Mack both have leg injuries and will not be 100% even assuming they play. The defense has been a shell of what they were in 2018, and Malik Hooker might have been their best chance to create a potential turnover and swing the game.
I trust Frank Reich to call the right plays to give his offense a chance to win this game. The question is, can the defense create turnovers that allow them to limit the Chiefs’ prolific offense enough to let the offense hang in there? My heart says yes, my gut says no. As a result, I’m taking some Pepto-Bismol and picking the Colts to win. Colts 34, Chiefs 28