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The Colts have missed the playoffs in four of the past five years. They were the sixth seed before dropping down and out to eighth after a 28-24 road loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday. The setback couldn’t have been more frustrating, considering the Colts led 24-7 in the third quarter.

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Since 1978, just two 11-5 teams have missed the playoffs. And the Colts are expected to get to that record as two-touchdown favorites against the Jaguars (1-14), who have the NFL’s worst record.

But the “help” part of the equation sure seems shaky at best.

The third-seeded Steelers (12-3) won’t play quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at Cleveland, where the Browns (10-5) must win to clinch a spot. Because of that, perhaps the second-seeded Buffalo Bills (12-3) rest starters at home against the Miami Dolphins (10-5), who like the Baltimore Ravens and Titans must win to advance to the postseason.

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A Titans loss coupled with a Colts win would give the Colts the AFC South Division title and a first-round home playoff game. In Houston, quarterback Deshaun Watson says he intends to play against the Titans although the Texans (4-11) are suiting up for nothing but pride and just lost at home to the Bengals. The Titans are touchdown favorites in the Lone Star State.

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The Ravens are at the Bengals (4-10-1) at 1 p.m. The Browns-Steelers and Bills-Dolphins games are also at 1 p.m.

Colts head coach Frank Reich (right), shown talking to linebacker Bobby Okereke at Las Vegas, has discussed with GM Chris Ballard whether to show other NFL scores on Sunday.

Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports

Colts head coach Frank Reich said on Monday that he’s discussed with general manager Chris Ballard whether the Lucas Oil Stadium video boards will show the scores of other games. He didn’t say what they decided.

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Colts second-year linebacker Bobby Okereke is with Hines. He says he doesn’t want to know.

“Honestly, I’ll be locked into the game,” he said.

But Okereke expects teammates will be talking on the sidelines about the outcomes of the early games.

“I probably won’t pay too much attention,” he said. “I’ll probably hear about it, then try to not let it affect me too much.”

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INDIANAPOLIS — By the time their game against Jacksonville kicks off Sunday at 4:25 p.m., the Indianapolis Colts (10-5) are going to know exactly where their playoff hopes stand. Well, a lot of them anyway.

Running back Nyheim Hines said, “I pray I don’t (know),” if the Browns (10-5), Ravens (10-5) or Dolphins (10-5) lost in the opening slate of games — any of one which would open up a Wild Card spot for the Colts, with a win over the Jaguars (1-14).

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“We can look at those games when (ours is) over,” Hines said. “It’s going to be over when our game starts, so hopefully we don’t see much of it, but those things don’t really matter because if all those teams lose and if we lose, we’re not going to make the playoffs. We need to focus on ourselves before we worry about anybody else.”

Will Frank Reich and the Colts be scoreboard watching on Sunday?
Hines is, of course, correct. If the Colts don’t win Sunday, how the Browns, Ravens and Dolphins fare won’t matter. The same goes for Tennessee, which plays against Houston at the same time the Colts take on Jacksonville. A Titans (10-5) loss opens up the possibility for the Colts to win the AFC South. But for that to happen, the Colts must take care of business against the lowly Jaguars — something they failed to do in Week 1.

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Like Hines, veteran defensive end Justin Houston has no interest in knowing the outcome of any of those games.

“I have a job to do and that’s playing against the Jags,” he said. “I can’t focus on anything else. If you do focus on anything else, it will become a distraction from what you really have to do. I can’t let that be a distraction.”

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According to the team’s head coach Frank Reich, the Indianapolis Colts plan on continuing to rotate their three tailbacks as part of a running back by committee attack—prominently featuring the trio of Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, and Jordan Wilkins (via The Athletic’s Zak Keefer):

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Frank Reich with no love for fantasy owners out there: “We’re gonna look at our three running backs as starters. I know it’s frustrating for fantasy players, but it’s just the way we’re gonna roll.”

The Jonathan Taylor/Nyheim Hines/Jordan Wilkins rotation worked on Sunday.

— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) November 23, 2020
That doesn’t mean that the Colts won’t ‘ride the hot hand’ though, as in recent weeks, Taylor led with 22 carries against Green Bay (Week 11), Hines led with 12 carries vs. Tennessee (Week 10), and Wilkins led with 20 carries facing Detroit (Week 8) respectively.

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While sometimes it’s nice to have ‘the guy’, the Colts utilizing each of their three running backs and maximizing their strengths situationally keeps opposing run defenses off balance—as they’re forced to adjust to contrasting rushing styles and unique skill-sets: ‘pick your poison’. It also should keep each of the Colts’ running backs fresh down the final stretch of the season—as none of them have recently been overworked.

Otherwise, Reich indicated that the team plans on continuing to utilize primary backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett with certain packages—presumably in short-yardage situations—where he’s been ‘a specialist’ of sorts recently this season:

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Frank Reich says this is the 1st time in his coaching career he’s experimented with the 2-QB system. Early on, he wanted to allow Rivers to establish himself.

“It feels like it’s just the right thing to do,” Reich says of keeping a package in the game plan for Jacoby Brissett.

— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) November 23, 2020
This isn’t the 2006 Florida Gators’ National Championship version of Chris Leak and Tim Tebow ‘1-2’ QB tandem by any means, but credit Brissett for staying involved, available, and finding a way on the field to help his team win football games again—even in a reduced offensive role during 2020.

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This may not be what he ultimately envisioned, but he’s still making a meaningful impact.

Always a team leader of the Colts’ locker room, Brissett showed a lot of fight and perseverance on a 4th and 1 QB sneak around the 5:00 mark of the 3rd quarter—plowing Packers’ defenders in the process for extra yards well past the sticks:

Not your average QB sneak by Jacoby Brissett @JBrissett12 @Colts


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— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 22, 2020
Despite the limited playing time this season, Brissett may have found a niche in certain short yardage and goal line situations with the Colts offense—as he’s effective quarterback sneaking it (something that veteran quarterback Philip Rivers is completely incapable of doing) and although not fast, Jacoby can be deceptively mobile at times—which presents another threat to consider/respect for opposing defenses:

Jacoby Brissett QB sneak TD

Colts take a 34-17 lead over the Titans

(via @NFL)

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 13, 2020
Featuring Brissett within the Colts offense situationally is a nice wrinkle for Reich.

While Reich ‘shouldn’t overdo it’ (as the team still needs Rivers behind center much more often than not out there) or get too cute with it at times, it’s currently adding a nice touch to the Colts offensive attack—which had previously struggled in short yardage situations.

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Say what you want, but it’s been pretty effective as of late—so the Colts should clearly keep it up.

The surprise isn’t that Jacoby Brissett’s quarterback sneak worked to perfection Thursday night, though it did, resulting in a game-clinching, two-yard fourth-quarter touchdown plunge to give the Colts a 34-17 advantage. What is a bit of a surprise is that Frank Reich and the Indianapolis Colts hadn’t turned to it and him sooner.

There’s no doubt the decision to pull Philip Rivers, a potential future hall-of-famer, off the field isn’t an easy one for the Colts coach to make, but the reality is this: The Colts have struggled in short-yardage situations, while Brissett has historically flourished in those same spots.

Entering the year, it seemed as if the Colts were primed to deploy Brissett in short-yardage scenarios. Reich even teased a package of plays specifically tailored to suit Brissett’s strengths in that area.

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Jacoby Brissett (7) of the Indianapolis Colts falls into the end zone for a fourth quarter touchdown on the quarterback keeper, Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. Colts won 34-17.
“Everybody knows who Jacoby is, he is not Lamar Jackson as far as speed, but Jacoby is tough to bring down,” Reich said. “So there are situations on the field and circumstances that we have a lot of trust in Jacoby. We were really good in a couple areas last year on offense. I don’t want to go into these in-depth, but there were a couple situational-football areas that we were really good at.”

More Colts coverage:

Insider: Forget 1-0, Colts swagger-filled thrashing of the Titans means more
Doyel: Colts dominate Titans 34-17 and you start thinking words like ‘Super’ and ‘Bowl’
Birthday boy Nyheim Hines scores 2 touchdowns, guides Colts offense to dominant win

Reich didn’t need to specify what football areas he was referring to. Brissett’s situational stats are glaring: He was outstanding in late-down, short yardage situations.

As IndyStar wrote in April: On third and fourth downs of 3 yards or less, Brissett completed 75.9% of his passes (22-of-29) with three touchdowns and 19 first downs, leading to a fantastic 132.0 quarterback rating. … He was even more prosperous on the ground. On 11 carries in those scenarios, Brissett ran for 33 yards, picked up 10 first downs and scored a touchdown.

Those 33 combined touchdowns and first downs gave him a 72.5% conversion rate, third best in the NFL.

Bringing those numbers back to Thursday night, 10 of Brissett’s 11 conversions on the ground came on quarterback sneaks. In fact, Brissett went 10-for-10 on third and fourth downs of 1 yard or less last season. For his career he’s 13-of-14.

While Brissett (and his offensive lines) deserve plenty of credit for their successes on quarterback sneaks, including the one Thursday night when left guard Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly each got excellent push up the middle, the truth is that there is no better short-yardage play in the NFL.

According to Sharp Football, quarterback sneaks result in first downs an astounding 78% of the time, while handoffs only enjoy a success rate of about 60% (stats since 2015).

Given Brissett’s credentials and the outstanding success rate of the quarterback sneak across the league, it seems surprising the Colts haven’t gone to it and him more often. It’s even more surprising given their issues in short yardage this year. On third and fourth downs of two yards or less (when a sneak would be most applicable), the Colts have a 58.3% success rate. On just running plays, that number dips to 54%.

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“(Short yardage) is one area that we definitely have to improve on,” Reich said Monday. “We’re not going to make every one. … I’m realistic in that regard, but we need to make a few more than we’re making.”

Despite their limitations in short yardage — and knowing Brissett’s reliability for converting on those plays — the Colts have called upon Brissett only one other time in a short-yardage situation this season (in a competitive game). It came two months ago during the season-opener in Jacksonville, when Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack sacked Brissett on a run-pass option play on second and goal from the two-yard line.

Reich confessed the next day to being “outcoached” on that play. He conceded he shouldn’t have called for a quarterback read on Brissett’s first snap of the season, chastising himself for being too predictable.

Perhaps the Colts failure in Jacksonville kept Reich from going back to Brissett again in similar situations. However, after Thursday night’s touchdown, it doesn’t sound as if Reich will hesitate to go back to Brissett in the future.

“Jacoby (Brissett) has been very successful (on sneaks),” Reich said. “It’s not like I would never do it with Philip, but definitely want to do it with Jacoby. Obviously, when we bring Jacoby in there, it’s not just going to be quarterback sneak. We have to complement that. We have to start somewhere so that was a good starting point. I’m hoping we can build off that.”

At this point, surely there are Colts fans thinking that if the sneak is so wildly successful, then why don’t the Colts just let Rivers run it?

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That’s not an easy question to answer. Suffice it to say, the sneak has not been a part of Rivers’ game for going on five seasons now. For one reason or another, he doesn’t do it. He used to earlier in his career and, no surprise for a stout 6-foot-5 quarterback, he was quite good at it. However, he has sneaked just one time in the past five years.

When asked directly about his lack of sneaking, Rivers told the San Diego Union Tribune in 2018, “It’s never anything I’ve necessarily been against.”

Frankly, Rivers’ affinity — or lack thereof — for the sneak shouldn’t much matter. The quarterback sitting behind him on the depth chart is fantastic at it. While Reich will have to mix up his play-calling with Brissett on the field so as to avoid predictability, there’s no reason Brissett and the sneak shouldn’t be a bigger part of the Colts offense going forward.