Colts' Reich on Jacoby Brissett package: 'Who says starting QB has to play every play?'

Jim Ayello
Indianapolis Star
View Comments

The play blew up in his face. A sack and a six-yard loss. Colts backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett absorbed the brutal blow from Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack in Week 1, but it was coach Frank Reich who took the body shot.

Reich had been contemplating the debut of the Brissett package for months, and there were two things he knew he didn’t want to happen: He didn’t want the first play to be a zone read -- he figured it’d be too predictable -- and he really, really wanted that first play to work.

A failure on both counts. 

“Yeah, that was really hard,” Reich told IndyStar. “That is the really hard thing about (trying something new). You want to build momentum with it. It’s important to have early success.”

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) during the first half of the NFL week 5 game at First Energy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, on Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. The Browns won, 32-23.

Some coaches might have chalked the play up to a failed experiment and scrapped that portion of the playbook, never returning to it again. But those coaches don’t look down at the same big bold letters scrawled across their playsheet every Sunday. 


Reich’s belief in Brissett and the package of plays he, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni and the rest of the coaching staff concocted during the offseason never wavered. 

They were always going to come back to Brissett. It took nine more weeks before that happened, but after Brissett punched in a 2-yard touchdown against the Titans on a quarterback sneak, Reich knew it was time to dial things back up. 

More Colts coverage:

Against Green Bay, Brissett took four snaps on third- and fourth-and short situations, leading the Colts to three first downs. He also added a five-yard run on a first-and-10. After the Colts' thrilling 34-31 overtime win last Sunday, team owner Jim Irsay felt compelled to address the media for the first time  this season, calling the game “one of most exciting we're ever had at home.”

He also felt compelled to mention someone whose statline read simply: 2 carries, 9 yards. 

“You have to give Jacoby a lot of credit,’’ Irsay beamed. “He’s become a spark the last two weeks.’’

A spark. Reich likes that word, too. That’s exactly what the Brissett package has given the Colts the past two weeks. And that’s what he’s going to continue to deliver down the back stretch of the season.

The Brissett package is here to stay. 

“You have to have patience,” Reich said. “I will say that in hindsight … maybe it worked out best that Philip (Rivers) had a chance to establish himself, and this is just the right time. We just started this with half the year to go. I think now it can be fresh. It can help give us a spark in the second half of the year, when a lot of times, teams can fizzle out. We’re thinking this can help give us a spark in the second half of the year in meaningful games and Jacoby can play a big role in us taking that step.”


Let’s clear up some misconceptions about the much-talked-about but not-well-understood Brissett package. 

1. It isn’t some sideshow circus act haphazardly created to appease Brissett after the Colts brought in Rivers to replace him as the starter. Reich and the Colts do love everything about Brissett and the special leader he has become during his four seasons in Indianapolis, but his usage has nothing to do with easing his ego.

The Colts have poured dozens, if not hundreds, of man hours into crafting a package of plays that would capitalize on his unique skillset. That process began shortly after the Colts acquired Rivers in free agency and has continued into this season. One part of the process involves Reich watching every successfully converted third- and fourth-and-short (one to four yards) in the NFL this season. All of them. He watches the cut-up of about 300 plays per week and flags the ones he likes, creating an inventory for the Colts to choose from. They’re not all for the Brissett package, of course, but some are. 

There’s no doubt they’re different types of players, but Reich doesn’t deny Taysom Hill and the Saints have served as a big source of inspiration for creating the Brissett package. Reich has kept a close eye on Saints coach Sean Payton as he has successfully spelled an aged Drew Brees with Hill over the past few years. When Rivers landed in Indianapolis, in Reich’s mind the two teams’ situations became strikingly similar. 

Beyond the Saints, however, Reich mentioned looking toward the Ravens (Lamar Jackson) and Cardinals (Kyler Murray) for inspiration. Again, he’s not comparing Brissett to those players, just examining the designs of the plays that make them successful and seeing if they'll work in Indianapolis. 

"We’re always watching current film," Reich said. "Looking at other offenses that have someone who is like Jacoby, a dual-threat. What do they do? What do they do with someone like that. We all have our own experiences, but you’re always looking for something new."

Reich also isn't afraid to wind the clock back a bit. Tight ends coach Jason Michael coached dual-threat quarterback Marcus Mariota in Tennessee and he’s brought some of what they did in Nashville to Indianapolis. 

2. Reich wasn’t “forced” into using the Brissett package due to the Colts struggles in short yardage this season. They certainly have had issues on third- and fourth-and-short situations and needed a shot in the arm, but Brissett was always going to be involved in the offense. When Reich suggested before the season that Brissett could see the field up to five-to-seven plays per game, he meant it. If you want to say that was overly ambitious, fine, but that was the goal. It’s important to note that, because you might think that after the Green Bay game, in which Brissett was on the field four times (in situations when Rivers wasn’t injured), that might be the high point of the year. You’d be wrong. There’s more coming. Much more. 

3. The Brissett package is not solely constructed of quarterback sneaks and run-pass options. Sure, that’s all we’ve seen so far but they’re only the tip of the iceberg, Reich promised. There’s a lot more. The sneaks and RPOs are just the foundation Reich has laid for the package. He understands that when defenses see Brissett now, they’ll be expecting the Colts to run a sneak or a zone read.

They will now have to confound those expectations. And yes, that means throwing the ball.

“I want to get to the point with Jacoby where we’re running everything,” Reich said. “We can’t have it be that  when he comes on the field, defenses can say, ‘OK, here comes a run.’ We have to bring Jacoby on and throw the football, otherwise the package will run out of steam. … This was always the plan, to phase in different aspects of the package.”

4. This is not some vanity exercise for Reich and the Colts to stroke their own genius. They’re not trying to be innovative. They’re trying to win football games. Plain and simple. That said, if they can do things teams haven’t seen before -- like trotting Brissett out onto the field after Rivers has already called the play, forcing the Packers into panic mode -- they’ll happily do it. But ultimately, all they’re trying to do is give the Colts a competitive edge, to put their players in the best position to win. This last point taps into what is at the heart of a Frank Reich offense.


The premise is beautiful in its simplicity. Reich believes, perhaps more than any other coach in the league, that everyone on the team has something to contribute. He believes in true collaboration. 

That can come off sounding an awful lot like coachspeak, but it means so much more than that to Reich. Just look at his offense. To the dismay of fantasy owners the world over, Reich doesn't often play favorites. He prefers to highlight and emphasize the individual strengths of different players every week, which simultaneously accomplishes the goal of exposing an opponent’s weaknesses and never letting them know who’s going to be the one to hit them next.

At one moment, Mo Alie-Cox is the tight end posting a 100-yard game. In the next, Trey Burton is catching touchdowns or running for them out of the Wildcat.

At running back, there were the Nyheim Hines Game in Tennessee, the Jordan Wilkins Game in Detroit and Jonathan Taylor’s re-emergence against Green Bay. It’s the same story at wide receiver, with T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman, Zach Pascal, Marcus Johnson and DeMichael Harris all playing starring roles at different points of the season. 

In Reich’s mind, if they’re willing to embrace that idea of the collective at wide receiver, at tight end, at running back, then why not quarterback? Why not use Brissett?

Because that’s not how it’s done? Because it’s not traditional? Those have never been acceptable answers to Reich. 

“I do have traditional roots but ... it doesn’t have to be all in on that kind of stuff. You can find a balanced approach,” Reich said. “There’s a proverb or saying I (use a lot): ‘A man of wisdom avoids all extremes.’ We don’t have to have any extremes. So this doesn’t have to be a true platoon where (the quarterbacks are) playing equal parts, but why can’t there be five plays a game or seven plays a game for Jacoby? ... Why not use everyone on the roster? Who’s saying the starting quarterback has to play every play?” 

Brissett possesses skills Rivers doesn’t. Even Rivers would concede that. Much to his own chagrin, he isn’t the 17-year-old linebacker he used to be. That is to say at 38-years-old, with due respect to Rivers, he isn't the same caliber of athlete the 27-year-old Brissett is. He maybe never was. Reich, of course, knew that when the Colts brought Rivers to Indianapolis. But just because the Colts were changing out starters doesn’t mean they should throw out part of their playbooks, particularly one that worked so well last season. 

These words have been written more than a few times in this space, but they bear repeating: Brissett was sensational in short yardage situations last season.

On third and fourth downs of 3 yards or less last year, Brissett completed 75.9% of his passes (22-of-29) with three touchdowns and 19 first downs, leading to a fantastic 132.0 quarterback rating. 

And despite all of that success through the air, he was even better on the ground. On 11 carries in those situations, Brissett ran for 33 yards, picked up 10 first downs and scored a touchdown. 

As most Colts fans know, Brissett isn’t particularly fast, but you can see his basketball background when he moves. He is shifty and because of his size (238 pounds), is exceedingly tough to tackle. There’s plenty of tape last year to prove that, but the Green Bay Packers could probably attest to it after he plowed forward for four yards on a quarterback sneak last Sunday. 

“Ah, he really got eight,” Reich said with a chuckle. “They never blew the whistle and they gave us a bad spot.”

Brissett was 10-for-10 on quarterback sneaks last season. He’s 2-for-2 this year with a touchdown in Tennessee and that conversion against Green Bay. While Reich is adamant the Brissett package will stretch beyond sneaks and RPOs, he’s going to keep calling them because Brissett executes them at an extraordinarily high level. Especially the sneaks. 

“He has a knack for it,” Reich said. “Usually, you see the bigger, stronger guys are typically better at them. Jacoby has a good balance of strong hips and legs. We have a good offensive line, and then he has a knack for finding that soft spot. … But the one thing about quarterback sneak I’ve learned, is it’s something you’ve got to want to run. Not just, 'OK, I’ll run it. I’ll do it for the team.' It has to be, ‘I want to run the quarterback sneak. And not every quarterback, I’ve been around guys who are not quarterback sneak guys and these are tough guys. It’s not a question of toughness. It’s a mental thing. ... Not everyone is built or wired to run a certain kind of play. That’s been my experience.”

Brissett is definitely one of those wired to run it. 

Speaking of wiring, not all quarterbacks are wired to be willing to come out of a game. Reich used to work with one named Peyton Manning. He, in all likelihood, would have hated trotting off the field, ceding a play to someone else. 

Though an extraordinary competitor, Rivers doesn’t mind. He’s seen Brissett's numbers, too. He knows Brissett can help, and he’s willing to let him. Reich knew that about Rivers already, but he decided to call Rivers and talk about it anyway ahead of the Green Bay game. 

“When we made the decision, when Nick and I were talking about it the other week saying, ‘Okay, we’re going to ramp this package up a little bit,’ I naturally called Philip and had a brief conversation about it,” Reich said. “I told him “‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do. Are you good?’ Just more out of respect than anything else and I got nothing but, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’ or, ‘That’s a good move.’”

Rivers, of course, was right. Brissett immediately injected the Colts with life. Despite limited play time, he’s given the Colts offense a jolt. 

That's going to continue the rest of the year, Reich said. 

Frankly, that’s an easy declaration for him to make now. After all of Brissett’s successes the past couple of weeks, committing to that package of plays seems obvious. It won’t always be so easy though. 

“It’s still early,” Reich said. “I’m sure there are going to be times where Jacoby comes on and plays are going to fail. They’re not all going to work.”

In moments like those, when the failure will be magnified solely because of the irregularity of the play call and who’s on the field, Reich will have to steady himself. That won’t be easy. But that’s part of the reason why he has that word on his play sheet. 


Reich knows in his heart and in his mind that this noble experiment can and will succeed, given the opportunity. 

“You just got to be patient with it,” Reich said. “You have to believe in what you’re doing and you have to believe in who you’re doing it with. And I can tell you, that’s what we have on our side. We believe in who we’re doing it with. I believe in the coaches, the schemes we put together for our players, we’ll have that conviction and belief about what we’re doing.”

Follow IndyStar Colts Insider Jim Ayello on Twitter: @jimayello.     

View Comments