INDIANAPOLIS — Facing 4th and 1 at the Miami 39-yard line with just less than four minutes left in the second quarter, Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich on Sunday trotted out his backup quarterback, Jacoby Brissett, to join the huddle already occupied by his starting quarterback, Andrew Luck.
The huddle breaks, and it's Brissett lined up behind the center, with Luck lined up wide to his left.
What in tarnation is going on here?
On the snap, Brissett, showing read option, sees the defense crashing in, expecting a run. So he pulls the ball out of the gut of running back Marlon Mack, and immediately notices Luck — who had taken just a step or two forward, ahead of the first-down marker, by this point — left all alone along the left sideline.
Brissett immediately fires a high pass towards his fellow quarterback Luck, who leaps into the air, secures the catch and is immediately met by safety Reshad Jones, who delivers a big hit right as Luck lands on the turf:
First down, Colts.
Six plays later, Indy would use that momentum to reach the end zone, as Luck — back in his primary role as a quarterback — found tight end Jack Doyle for a one-yard touchdown pass, putting the Colts ahead, 14-7, with 1:49 left in the second quarter.
Reich has certainly heard lots of chatter about that Brissett-to-Luck play since his team wrapped up its 27-24 victory against the Miami Dolphins. The media, of course, had questions after the game, and many fans were curious (or even a little peeved) about the strategy behind throwing the ball to your franchise quarterback in that situation.
"Oh yeah, I could totally understand it," Reich said Monday night on 1070 The Fan's "Colts Roundtable Live" when asked about facing scrutiny from fans about that second quarter play.
As it turns out, however, Reich has a successful history with this specific play.
And, with the Colts looking to earn a fifth straight win to stay relevant in the playoff picture, Reich isn't afraid to reach into his bag of tricks to make a splash play or two.
"When you get to this time of year, winning these important games — every team's gonna do this, right? The game's on the line, it's an important drive, we end up scoring on this drive," Reich said Monday night. "Not that throwing passes for Andrew Luck is a forethought every week, but certainly you want to do what you have to do to win the game."
Now looking back, some botched assignments by the Dolphins' defense might've actually helped them on this specific play.
Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who was supposed to be covering Luck on the play, instead leaves the quarterback all alone along the sideline and moves inside to blitz off the edge. On the snap, he sells out on the handoff to Mack — it was 4th and 1, after all — which led to Brissett utilizing the "read" part of the read option to throw to the wide-open Luck to his left.
Fortunately for the Dolphins, Jones has the frame of mind to start heading Luck's way once Fitzpatrick leaves his assignment, and is there to make a physical hit just as No. 12 in all blue comes down with the catch.
Buy why this play? In this situation?
Because Reich has had great success with it in the recent past.
The situations and the personnel were a little different, but as offensive coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles last season, Reich saw the Eagles get touchdowns using this play on two different occasions alone.
— In the Eagles' fourth preseason game against the New York Jets, Philadelphia faced a 3rd and 6 from the Jets' 41-yard line. On the snap, quarterback Dane Evans, running the read option, saw that the New York defense got sucked in on the possibility of the run play up the middle, so he keeps the ball and begins to run to his left, drawing a deep safety his way and leaving the back left end of the field wide open. Wide receiver Marcus Johnson (yes, that Marcus Johnson, who is now on the Colts' IR list) had one-on-one coverage against a defensive back along the left sideline, and right when Evans took off with the ball that DB's eyes got fixated on the running quarterback. That allowed Johnson the opportunity to simply sprint by him, and all Evans had to do was find Johnson at the 25-yard line, and he ran into the end zone from there:
— Then, in the Eagles' Week 9 game against the Denver Broncos, Philly faced a 1st and 10 from the Denver 32. On the snap, quarterback Carson Wentz saw the Broncos sell hard on the handoff up the middle, so he keeps the ball. Von Miller, one of the best edge defenders in the game, actually does a pretty good job reading the play and keeping Wentz contained where he is, but by this point the damage had already been done. Alshon Jeffery, covered up by cornerback Aqib Talib along the right sideline, stands in place on the snap, looking into the backfield, which causes Talib to take a peek himself. Oops. Jeffery immediately takes off, sprinting past Talib and receiving the floater from Wentz around the 15-yard line. The receiver is able to zoom past a late-arriving safety to get into the end zone for the touchdown:
So, going back to Sunday, had Fitzpatrick not crashed in and left Luck uncovered, there was a potential for this play to go for an even bigger gain than it ended up producing — which was four yards, a first down and the first reception of Luck's career.
"I know that play wasn't called for a four-yard throw to Andrew," Reich told reporters after the game. "That was Jacoby and Andrew making a great play, OK? (The Dolphins) played it a lot differently than I thought they were going to play it and Jacoby and Andrew adjusted to make a great play."