INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni this week is a guest on the Colts Official Podcast, where he discusses how the staff approaches evaluating the 2019 season, quarterback Jacoby Brissett, the team's offensive line and much more.
You can listen to that entire conversation above, but what were some of the top takeaways?
1. The loss of multiple playmakers throughout 2019 was "tough," but Sirianni liked what he saw out of a few receivers who stepped in, in particular: As Sirianni and the offensive staff reviewed the play of their unit from 2019, they really liked what they saw in the run game, which was able to improve from 20th to seventh in the league in rushing yards per game, and just 1.5 yards per game out of the top five.
But the Colts' passing game wasn't able to consistently take advantage of a stronger run game, however, and finished 30th in the league at 194.3 yards per game. A major contributing factor was an unfortunate injury bug at the wide receiver position, which resulted in free agent acquisition Devin Funchess being limited to one game all year, top receiver T.Y. Hilton being in and out of the lineup and missing a career-high six games and second-round pick Parris Campbell playing in just seven games as he dealt with three different injuries. Add on top of that guys like tight end Eric Ebron (placed on IR Nov. 25) and slot receiver Chester Rogers (placed on IR Dec. 3) also dealing with season-ending injuries, and it just at times seemed like things were snowballing within the offense.
"Anytime you lose playmakers, that's tough. That is definitely tough," Sirianni said. "Now, Chris Ballard and his staff did a great job of getting players in here capable of filling their roles, to the best that they can. But when you lose guys like T.Y. (Hilton) and (Devin) Funchess, and Parris (Campbell) on and off, that makes it hard."
Two players that were able to step in and produce, in particular, were Zach Pascal and Marcus Johnson. Pascal would end up catching 41 passes for a team-high 607 yards and a team-high-tying five touchdowns, while Johnson played in eight games and logged 17 receptions for 277 yards and two scores.
"You get an opportunity — there's so many things that can happen. These guys don't get many opportunities. A guy like Zach Pascal's not going to get a ton of opportunities, and it was really exciting and gratifying as a coach to see Zach succeed when he did come in and play," Sirianni said. "And you never want one of your guys to go down, especially guys like T.Y., but it is exciting for the guys like (Pascal) and Marcus Johnson, (who) did well when he had a chance to play, it's exciting to see them play and be able to shine when they have the opportunity. So those two guys, particularly — and Ashton Dulin did a great job when he was in — so those guys really did a good job of stepping up and trying to fill the void as best as possible."
2. Jacoby Brissett's ability to create was impressive; now it's about getting even quicker within the offense: After getting a chance to fully evaluate starting quarterback Jacoby Brissett's performance from 2019, Sirianni said a few aspects really stood out — most of all, Brissett's ability to escape heavy pressure and find a way to make a big play.
A prime example: Week 8 against the Denver Broncos, trailing by one, 13-12, and pinned back to his own 11-yard line with 1:48 left in the fourth quarter, Brissett was chased into the end zone by All-Pro pass rusher Von Miller; a crushing safety was all-but assured.
But, somehow, Brissett was able to escape Miller's grasp, keep the play alive, and, on the run, deliver an absolute strike down the field to T.Y. Hilton, who made a tip-toe catch along the sideline at the Indy 46-yard line. Five plays later, Adam Vinatieri knocked in a 51-yard field goal with 26 seconds left to give the Colts a 15-13 victory.
"One thing that you see that you really like about Jacoby is his ability to create — his ability to create and extend plays," Sirianni said. "He's doing it a little differently than a Lamar Jackson, he's doing it a little differently than a Deshaun Watson; he's doing it a little bit like a Ben Roethlisberger where he's just so physically strong in the pocket, got great pocket movement, and just has a good feel where the defenders are — and Jacoby's not a run-first guy; he's gonna break it in the pocket when he needs to and evaluate what's happening downfield before he runs.
"So that really stood out in his game, and especially on the coaching side of it you're like, 'Man, maybe that wasn't the best play right there, but he made it work because he's able to extend plays,'" Sirianni continued. "And that was exciting to watch, and good for you as a coach just thinking about that, like, 'Man, defense studies tape, too; the defense had that right play and call there, but Jacoby made it work.' So I thought that was really outstanding what he did in the pocket extending plays."
Moving forward, Sirianni said Brissett will be tasked with continuing to improve at quickly scanning the field and getting the ball out of his hands. Another offseason of work will only help in that area.
"He always knew where to go with the football, and then we just speed that up a little bit. 'Yes, you knew where to go with the football; let's get there just a little bit quicker, just a little bit quicker, just a little bit quicker.' " Sirianni said. "And that comes with experience, and that comes with playing time. You know, you see these guys that have been starting at quarterback at some of these franchises for, you know, 15, 16, 17, 18 years — like, there's nothing those guys haven't seen, alright? So sometimes it's brand new, what he sees, but as you build those reps and you build that game experience, that really will speed that up. And that's nothing but reps, and you get that in practice, and you really get that in games."
3. The Colts' offensive line continued to prove it was the "heart and soul" of the entire unit: The Colts' five starting offensive linemen — Anthony Castonzo (left tackle), Quenton Nelson (left guard), Ryan Kelly (center), Mark Glowinski (right guard) and Braden Smith (right tackle) — set a goal at the beginning of 2019: they wanted to start all 16 games together.
It's a feat not often accomplished in today's NFL.
But they did it.
There were bumps and bruises along the way, but none of them deterred the group from accomplishing its goal.
"That speaks to their toughness," Sirianni said. "It's a long season — those guys' bodies hurt, I promise you that. And the mental and physically toughness out of that group is special, and not everybody has that — maybe they have it in a couple offensive linemen; not everybody has it in five like we do. And credit to Chris Ballard and his staff of putting together this group, and Chris Strausser and Klayton Adams of developing this group. They just did a great job and they set the tone."
And while offensive lines are typically known more for their work as a group, the Colts saw some tremendous individual play out their five big fellas up front. Castonzo was named a Pro Bowl alternate for the first time in his career, and Kelly was selected to the Pro Bowl for the first time.
Then there was Nelson, who continued his historic start to his career by being named First-Team All-Pro for the second straight year since being taken with the sixth-overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
"Culture changer, player changer," Sirianni said of Nelson. "This guy is a special player, and it's always going to be special to me, too, because my first coordinator job he's our first draft pick. I still remember when we drafted him, I was high-fivin' in the offensive line room, how special that was, him coming in the next day. This is a special guy and a great leader for this football team, and really leads by example. So, really, obviously ecstatic that he's on our team, and he's one of the leaders of this team."
Here's a full breakdown of this week's Colts Official Podcast:
00:00 - 4:25 — Colts news/Mike Adams retirement thoughts with host Matt Taylor.
04:26 - 20:23 — Writer's Block: Colts.com writer Andrew Walker recapping the NFL Combine and the free agent profiles of Le'Raven Clark and Rolan Milligan.
20:24 - 48:34 — Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni on his assessment of the offense and the play of Jacoby Brissett from 2019.
48:35 - 59:14 — Colts wide receivers coach Mike Groh on joining the staff in Indy and working once again with Frank Reich.
59:15 - 1:17:12 — "Is It Fair to Say?" with Jeffrey Gorman, Larra Overton and Casey Vallier.
1:17:13 - 1:36:49 — NFL Draft insider Chris Trapasso from CBS discusses the upcoming draft and the Colts' top needs.
1:36:50- 1:49:30 - Segment with Sorgi: Colts' radio analyst Jim Sorgi breaks down the traits the Colts need at wide receiver next season.