By Matt Citak
The Indianapolis Colts entered the 2017 NFL season expecting their franchise quarterback, Andrew Luck, to be under center at some point during the season. That is not the case. Luck was unable to recover from offseason shoulder surgery and was placed on IR last month. Knowing they may be without their star quarterback for a while, Indianapolis traded for Jacoby Brissett right before the regular season. Brissett has appeared in all 12 games this year, starting in 11 of them, and has done a decent job filling in for Luck, especially considering he arrived in Indianapolis just days before the season started.
Brissett has completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 2,542 yards, 10 touchdowns, and seven interceptions this season. The second-year quarterback out of NC State has led Indianapolis to a 3-9 record, due in large part to the overall struggles of the Colts offense. Indianapolis enters Week 14 ranked 27th in total yards per game (296.0), 28th in passing yards per game (196.9), 24th in rushing yards per game (99.1) and 28th in points per game (17.1). The Colts have also surrendered a league-high 51 sacks this year, nine more than the next highest total. However Brissett has an opportunity to improve on those numbers this week, as the Colts will travel to Buffalo to take on the struggling Bills at New Era Field.
The Bills are no strangers to quarterback issues. Tyrod Taylor started the first nine games of the season for Buffalo, but was benched in favor of rookie QB Nathan Peterman for the Bills’ Week 11 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers. Peterman completed just 6-of-14 passes for 66 yards, zero touchdowns, and five interceptions in the first half, marking the worst quarterback debut in NFL history.
Taylor regained his starting role for Week 12, and helped lead the Bills to a 16-10 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. But the 28-year-old QB suffered a knee injury during Buffalo’s Week 13 loss to the New England Patriots, and may not return to the field in time for Sunday’s matchup. Bills head coach, Sean McDermott, said this week that Taylor would start at quarterback when he’s healthy enough to play. But with the veteran still not practicing, it’s looking more and more likely that the rookie Peterman will get his second career start this week.
THE NFL ON CBS’s Steve Tasker weighed in on this week’s Colts-Bills matchup, which he will be calling alongside play-by-play announcer Spero Dedes and analyst Adam Archuleta, as well as other upcoming NFL ON CBS action in Week 14.
Indianapolis Colts vs. Buffalo Bills – 1:00 PM ET Sunday – CBS
CBS Local Sports: If Tyrod Taylor is unable to go this week, Nathan Peterman will get his second career start. What changes will the Bills and Sean McDermott make from the rookie’s dreadful first start in Week 11?
Steve Tasker: They are going to emphasize getting the ball out of his hands. He played a little bit better when he came into the game in relief of Tyrod Taylor against the Patriots. But he didn’t come in until the end of the game during garbage time, so it was a little easier for him. That may give him a little bit of confidence. But one thing you can bet they’ll do is find a way to protect him better. He’s a young quarterback. Protection is absolutely critical. The run game has always been an emphasis for the Bills. But in this game, they have to not only try to run the football, but also make sure he knows and is confident in his pass protection so the ball can come out on time. They need to stay away from five-to-seven-step drops and get the ball out.
When he got off to a rocky start early against the Chargers, it shook his confidence. He got to a point where he thought he was going to have to make up for some of the stuff that happened to him earlier. He has to get over that and remember that if he just plays and gets the ball out of his hands and to the guys on his team, then he’ll be fine. The pass protection is the crucial element that may have been missing against the Chargers in his first start. If the protection is better, he’ll play better.
CBS Local Sports: With all of the uncertainty surrounding Andrew Luck and his shoulder, has Jacoby Brissett shown enough this season to be considered a possible long-term solution at quarterback, should Luck be unable to return?
Steve Tasker: Jacoby Brissett is a backup quarterback who got forced into service. Given the state of the quarterback position in the NFL, he may be a better option than some guys who are playing for teams now. There’s no question that he extended his career. But he isn’t going to come in and take Andrew Luck’s job. Certainly if Luck’s shoulder injury turns out to be career-ending, they won’t go any place other than Jacoby Brissett for the time being. But that doesn’t preclude them from getting another quarterback to come in and compete for the job. Jacoby Brissett is improving. He’s done a lot of good things that he wasn’t able to do early on. He’s getting the ball out better now.
Their pass protection is a little bit of a mess, and there are other problems that a player like Andrew Luck covered for. Luck and his ability to set the protection, get rid of the ball on time, make accurate throws, and read defenses gave him the ability to cover for some of the problems that the Colts had. If a quarterback gets sacked 10 times in a game, like Brissett has done, you clearly have pass-protection issues. Brissett is not good enough to overcome those issues. A guy like Andrew Luck is. But there’s no question Jacoby Brissett made himself a lot of money in this stretch of games he’s played for the Colts. Someone is going to offer him a big check to see if they can get him to come in and play for their team and do a little better than he did for the Colts.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Carolina Panthers – 1:00 PM ET Sunday – CBS
CBS Local Sports: What has Case Keenum done differently this season to find as much success as he has?
Steve Tasker: He’s playing with some confidence. It’s surprised a lot of people that he’s come in and been able to play with confidence and make throws that he’s been able to make. For whatever reason, whether it’s good, bad, or just lucky, the Vikings put him into a situation where he was going to be there for a stretch of games. He knew he was going to be able to make a few mistakes, and that he would still be there for a few games. That gave him a little bit of a different mindset, rather than previously in his career, when he was given a chance for just one week. He felt like a ton was on his back that week to make everything happen.
This time was different. He could go in and play within himself a little bit to get started. And then as he gained that confidence, which happened pretty quickly, he began to really play well. The team has rallied around him. It has given Case Keenum a bit of a serendipitous moment in his career to come in and have all of these things come together. The right opportunity, the right team, the right atmosphere, the right offense, and the ability to know that he was going to be there for a stretch and didn’t have to prove everything in one game. That all came together, and both Keenum and the Vikings have gotten the most out of the opportunity. There’s no question about it — they are playing outstanding football.
CBS Local Sports: While Carolina’s defense has been one of the best in the league this season, the offense has struggled at times. How will Cam Newton and the Panthers be able to score on Minnesota’s stifling D?
Steve Tasker: Cam has evolved over the course of his career. He came out of college and was more like a youth football player. If he didn’t see anything he liked when he dropped back, he would move around the pocket and outrun the defenses to get his team to make a play and stay on the field. He has moved away from that. He’s evolved into more of a pocket-passer. He still has an enormous arm. He can still make throws that not many other guys can make. He is still a great athlete, and he’s the leader of this Carolina team. He’s evolved to that, and you have to applaud him for the amount of work he’s put in.
But in this game, he needs to regress back to his younger days and trust himself to make sure his offense can grind out first downs. You have to find a way to stay on the field and be efficient when you get down in the red zone. This is all about Cam Newton and this offense shortening the game, running the football, and finding ways to just get 10 yards. Forget about the end zone until you get down in the red zone. Then you make sure you try to get in there. But this is about Cam Newton being the best player on the football field, and proving that every first down. That’s the key to this game for Carolina. The Minnesota defense is too disciplined and well-schooled to give up a play over the top or miss a bunch of tackles. You have to protect the football and just find a way to get four-and-a-half yards per play. If you can do that, you have a chance to shorten the game, reduce the opportunities for Minnesota’s offense, and come out on top. It’s the perfect situation for the kind of player Cam Newton came into the league being.
Matt Citak is a producer for CBS Local Sports and a proud Vanderbilt alum. Follow him on Twitter or send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.