Doyel: Jacoby Brissett isn't good enough, but who on this Colts team is?

Gregg Doyel
Indianapolis Star

NEW ORLEANS – The first time Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett hit someone in stride, that someone was a linebacker for the New Orleans Saints. Demario Davis dropped the ball, allowing Brissett to avoid an interception. It may have been his finest moment in the Indianapolis Colts’ 34-7 loss to the Saints on Monday night.

The first time Colts cornerback Rock Ya-Sin stopped Saints receiver Michael Thomas from catching a pass, he did it by grabbing a fistful of Thomas’ jersey and holding on for dear life. Thomas was pulling him downfield like a tow truck, trying to reach the pass from Drew Brees, but couldn’t get there. Officials called the Colts’ rookie for defensive holding. It was unquestionably Ya-Sin’s finest moment Monday night.

The best punt of the night for the Colts’ Rigoberto Sanchez, a 49-yarder that was downed at the New Orleans 2, didn’t count because teammate Jonathan Williams committed holding to prevent the Saints from blocking the kick. Sanchez punted again, and this time teammate Jordan Wilkins committed holding to prevent the Saints from blocking the kick – and failed. New Orleans’ Dwayne Washington blocked it anyway.

This was a systemic breakdown, the Colts getting overwhelmed in all three phases, trailing 34-0 before forcing the Saints' first punt. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees threw 30 passes, completing 29, breaking Peyton Manning’s NFL record for career touchdown passes. The one incompletion was his fault, a swing pass to Latavius Murray that sailed wide right. The Colts had nothing to do with that. No pressure on the quarterback, no tight coverage on Murray, nothing.

Literally from the opening kickoff, which Nyheim Hines chose to bring out of the end zone and was swarmed at the 16, the Colts were terrible Monday night. And this is what Colts coach Frank Reich said afterward:

“I believe our guys fight hard.”

That quote is awful, and not because he’s wrong. It’s awful because he might be right. It’s possible the Colts tried.

So did my lawnmower.

And I threw that piece of junk away because it wasn’t getting the job done.

Jacoby's not good enough

So who do the Colts get rid of? Let’s ask a question with a shorter answer: Who do they keep?

Jacoby Brissett may well be a franchise quarterback, but only if that franchise is in Canada. This offensive line may be the best thing since sliced bread, and running back Marlon Mack may be a rising star, but his finally tally of 11 carries for 19 yards would beg to differ on both counts. The receivers weren’t getting much separation, not even T.Y. Hilton, who was playing his first game in weeks with an injured calf. If you want me to say something nice right now about the Colts, there it is: T.Y. Hilton is too tough for his own good.

And maybe Eric Ebron had the right idea when he quit on this team.

No, I take it back. Ebron was selfish when he stunned the Colts three weeks ago by announcing he was shutting himself down for the season to have surgery on his ankles, a “business decision” that could haunt him, seeing how NFL teams aren’t in the business of paying big money to guys who bail midseason. Well-run NFL teams aren’t paying for that, anyway. Ebron could always sign with the Jaguars, I guess.

How bad were the Colts on Monday night? I’m ripping players who aren’t even here anymore, and teams that weren’t even in the building.

But let’s get back to the Colts, and turn our attention to that dastardly scheme of coordinator Matt Eberflus, a zone defense that specializes in stopping nobody. Eberflus’ unit turned Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston into Drew Brees last week, then turned Brees into the greatest single-game NFL quarterback of all time on Monday night. Literally, Brees set an NFL record Monday night with his 96.7% accuracy.

Reich’s offense was no better, unable to run or pass until the game was out of reach and the Colts marched 80 yards down the field for their touchdown, a 1-yard run where third-year back Jordan Wilkins earned my lasting affection by dropping the ball in the end zone like he was embarrassed to be seen holding it.

The special teams were a complete joke.

Feels like I’m leaving somebody out …

Well, Pierre Desir’s biggest hit came late in the third quarter, when he wrapped up the Saints' Taysom Hill at the 6-yard line, completing the form tackle by spinning to the ground. Problem was, he spun there alone. Hill kept going, trotting into the end zone for a 34-0 lead.

The game didn’t feel that close.

Indianapolis Colts running backs Marlon Mack (25) and Nyheim Hines (21) sit on the bench during the second quarter against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019.

Can't listen to Pagano, er, Reich

Afterward, as I’ve shown you briefly, coach Frank Reich was as positive as a coach can be after something like this. He wasn’t completely positive, mind you, noting that “we got our butts beat in all three phases” and “tonight we just got it handed to us.”

But he also suggested his offense was close to putting points on the board in the first quarter, and his defense was close to getting the Saints off the field in the first quarter.

“I know it sounds crazy,” Reich said, to which I was thinking:

No, but it sure sounds familiar. And we hated it when the last guy tried to blow smoke up our …

So after swallowing all the milquetoast I could stomach – including the “perspective” from Reich that “every now and then something like this happens” – I asked Reich if there was a time to be a fire-breathing dragon after a game … and wasn’t this perhaps the time?

“There’s a time to breathe fire, and there have been times I do that after a loss,” Reich was saying. “I wasn’t breathing fire in there today. … That’s just me. I don’t think that was the answer in there. I believe our guys fight hard. You lose like this and it feels like you let down, but in my mind it was a matter of execution more than anything else.”

Players were angry in the locker room. Linebacker Darius Leonard was saying: “We just didn’t show up at all. It’s very embarrassing.”

Tight end Jack Doyle said: “I’m at a loss for answers, I really am.”

“Frustrating,” he said. “Extremely frustrating.”

Doyle paused, smiled bitterly, and said it again.

“Extremely frustrating.”

Veteran defensive end Justin Houston and veteran center Ryan Kelly couldn’t pinpoint what went wrong. Neither could veteran receiver T.Y. Hilton or Desir, the veteran cornerback. You know who may have had it right? Rock Ya-Sin. He’s a rookie, just 23 years old, and hasn’t been around long enough to know better than to be completely honest. He’ll learn. For now, though …

“They played harder than us,” Ya-Sin said, and when I asked him to explain that, or even to repeat that, this is what he said next:

“They hit harder than us. Their defense hit harder. Their offense hit harder.”

He left out the Saints’ special teams, who also hit harder, but that’s a start. And here’s where we’ll finish:

The loss officially knocked the Indianapolis Colts out of the 2019 NFL playoffs, a sentence so unnecessary, so needlessly preposterous, I’m hearing 2001 Colts coach Jim Mora shout – “Playoffs? You kidding me?” – and wondering why the 2020 season will be any different.

Find IndyStar columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at www.facebook.com/gregg.doyel.