INDIANAPOLIS – After making a strong opening statement, Jacoby Brissett will see a very different challenge in his second start for the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.
For all the strengths of the Los Angeles Chargers’ defense, including one of the best pairs of pass rushers in the NFL with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, it’s a unit that doesn’t mix things up much. The Chargers do what they do best, and they do it often.
The Tennessee Titans, Sunday’s opponent in a second straight road game to start the season, are on the other end of the spectrum. The Titans will alter their looks within every series and give the opposing quarterback something to think about on nearly every snap.
Tennessee harassed young Cleveland Browns starter Baker Mayfield throughout last week’s opener, sacking him five times and coming down with three interceptions.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has long taken pride in forcing passers into performances like that.
“Their defense ranks high on the exotic scale,” Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich said. “Sometimes offensive coordinators will refer to it as a rolodex kind of defense. It’s calling something different on every play. Just dial up the next part, the next call, and they do it well. That’s part of their DNA. That’s who he’s been.”
Brissett agreed, saying he’d rank the Titans as the most exotic defense in the league. Not that he’ll change his approach.
Tennessee is one of the few opponents with which Brissett has some experience. He made two starts against the Titans in 2017. Legendary Dick LeBeau was the defensive coordinator then, but the scheme was just as diverse, if not more so.
He completed 38 of 66 attempts for 408 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. That, of course, came in a completely different offensive scheme with a largely different supporting cast.
Brissett isn’t likely to focus on any of that this week.
“It’s just all about us, to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s the second game of the season, against a divisional opponent, on the road. We’ve got a lot of things to overcome, but it all boils back to come back to us.”
Indianapolis had a lot of faith in Brissett’s ability to handle situations like this before the season opener. But his showing in L.A. – completing 21 of 27 attempts for 190 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions – only strengthened that resolve.
He shined particularly in clutch situations.
Brissett completed back-to-back back-shoulder throws to Deon Cain and Devin Funchess with time running out in the first half, but Adam Vinatieri missed a field goal attempt to end the drive.
He was even better on the final drive of the fourth quarter. With 4:16 remaining, Brissett fired a strike to T.Y. Hilton on third-and-22 from his own 32-yard line. The 19-yard gain set up a fourth-and-3 play Brissett converted with an 8-yard pass to Devin Funchess.
After the Colts drove to the Chargers’ 19-yard line with 48 seconds left, Brissett got a big lift from Hilton. He threw a short pass into the flat, and the veteran wideout made an outstanding stop-and-go move to score the touchdown.
Moments later, Marlon Mack dove in for the 2-point conversion to tie the game.
It was the kind of drive that separates game managers from winning quarterbacks in the NFL, and Brissett passed his first test with honors.
“He made good decisions, he was accurate and he made those decisions quick,” offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “He had to because they had good edge rushers on the edge coming after him. So I can’t say enough of how poised he was in those situations. He played like a veteran. He played like he had played for 10 years. He just really, really did a good job.”
Of course, the key at this level is consistency.
One good game is quickly forgotten.
Brissett lamented the fact the Colts didn’t get the ball back in overtime and said he learned to cherish every possession like it’s his last.
But his teammates have rarely seen the 26-year-old ride the emotional roller coaster.
They see a leader who rises to the occasion and lifts everyone around him.
“He never changed in the huddle,” center Ryan Kelly said. “He wasn’t the guy who’s going to ride the ups and downs of the game. On the sideline, he was fully communicating with us, especially with some certain things that we wanted to do in changing how we wanted to slide our protections and do certain things to take care of certain pass rushers.
“That was the first time I have played with him in a game in a couple years, but it was just a lot of fun and he was great out there.”