JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2019 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Mike Chappell – longtime Colts beat writer for the Indianapolis Star for 25 seasons now of Fox 59 – on the Colts as they enter Sunday's game against the Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Question: The Colts are 5-4 with back-to-back losses, including a 16-12 loss to the 2-7 Miami Dolphins this past Sunday. Where do the Colts feel like they stand with seven games remaining?
Answer: So-so. Losing at home to Miami was inexcusable. The Colts were without their starting quarterback, Jacoby Brissett. They were without three top receivers in T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell and Devin Funchess. But to do what they did was just inexcusable. Miami's not very good and you're at home. You've just got to find a way to win that. You have two big games coming up with Jacksonville and Houston and you can really set yourself up nice. That was a crippling loss and we'll see how they respond to it.
Q: How much different do they expect to be in terms of injuries Sunday?
A: That's a good question. We really won't know until we see practice Wednesday with Brissett. Everything revolves around Brissett. They're 0-7 without T.Y. Hilton, which is a telling stat, but they win that game Sunday with Brissett. He just makes the plays that [backup quarterback] Brian Hoyer didn't make. I don't know if Hilton plays [Sunday]; he may be a game away. But if Brissett plays, it's an entirely different offense: more efficient. They took it up to Friday or Saturday last week before making a decision; they just can't wait that long again because it really hindered Hoyer's preparation.
Q: Brissett's performance – and that of the team overall – has surprised many people who thought the Colts would struggle after the surprising August retirement of quarterback Andrew Luck. What about Brissett has allowed this success?
A: He's a notch above a game manager. Game manager is such a derogatory term, I think. He's efficient. He doesn't force balls into tight coverage. I would argue he needs to take more shots down the field, but this is what they want. He has 14 touchdowns with three interceptions and a really high completion percentage. They just make enough plays when he's quarterbacking. There were five instances against the Dolphins where he checks the ball down and they get a first down; Hoyer is taking shots down the field that weren't ideal. He just gives them a sense of stability and efficiency that Hoyer can't or won't or hasn't been around long enough to do.
Q: They were publicly very confident following Luck's retirement. Were they privately that confident, and are you surprised they're this good with Brissett at quarterback?
A: I think they believed that; I think [General Manager] Chris Ballard really believed in Jacoby Brissett. I really do. Now, for anyone who thinks that if they dropped a 2018 midseason Andrew Luck into this offense that they wouldn't be better, they're delusional. He's simply a much better quarterback. If that comes off as a knock on Brissett, then so be it. He was the biggest question coming into the season. The defense was going to be better. The running game was going to be better. The offensive line was better. We didn't know about Brissett. He played in 2017 in a lost season; you didn't know anything based on that. He didn't play last year. And this past offseason and training camp he was just very so-so. The fact that he had this team 5-2 was pretty remarkable. With him, I thought they were co-favorites to win the AFC South along with Houston, but the ceiling wasn't as high as with Luck. People are surprised. I'm not sure Ballard is quite that surprised, but Brissett silenced a lot of critics during the first seven games.
Q: When Brissett is healthy and the Colts are playing how they want to play, what is this team like offensively?
A: They like to kind of grind it. They like to lean on their running game. [Running back] Marlon Mack is on pace for 1,300 or 1,400 yards if he stays healthy. They're close to 52-48 pass-run [ratio] this year; it hasn't been like that since before [former quarterback] Peyton Manning got here [in 1998]. It's a little different, but they want to keep games under control and control tempo. [Head coach] Frank Reich has told us his ideal game is 150 yards rushing and 250 passing. With Brissett, that's possible. Without him, it's not. But this is totally different than the type of offense fans are used to with Manning and Luck just because they're not taking as many shots down the field. They're probably in the bottom third in the league – if not lower than that – in explosive 20-yard passes. That's just going to be the function of this offense when Brissett is under center.
Q: How good are the Colts defensively? They look some weeks like they're very good.
A: They've not had the defense together a lot of the season because of injuries. When they're together, they're not too bad. We'll see how they hold up against a much better quarterback in Nick Foles [of the Jaguars] than they've faced the last two weeks. [Mason] Rudolph [of Pittsburgh] and [Ryan] Fitzpatrick [of Miami] aren't very good. Right now, I trust the defense more than I trust the offense. When's the last time anyone who followed the Colts would say that? Since 2012 they had been 36-4 when holding opponents to 17 points or fewer. They did that with Miami and they just couldn't score enough.
Q:You've seen a lot of good seasons and bad seasons there. This might be one of the weirdest seasons, right?
A: It started August 24 when Luck retired; we didn't see any of that coming. Then you get to the season and all of a sudden the storyline is [kicker] Adam Vinatieri. He has missed 11 kicks and cost them two games – the [Los Angeles] Chargers game [in Week 1] and the Pittsburgh game. You could argue he had a big impact in the game Sunday when he missed an extra point. He's arguably the greatest of all time, but right now he's not kicking very well. He's dealing with something in his left leg; he won't make an excuse for it, but it has bothered him since training camp. We keep waiting for them to make a change and they're not doing it.
Q: Is this a playoff team?
A: With Brissett, they're a playoff team. Without him, they're not. It's probably like that with any team and its quarterback. But for as bad as they played the last two weeks, if they find a way to beat Jacksonville and go to Houston and win – and they've sort of had Houston's number in Houston – all of a sudden, they're back in control of the division. They've given you no confidence to think that's going to happen. But I go back to what I said: With Brissett, they're a playoff team; without him, they're not.