The Cleveland Browns are without Deshaun Watson for six games to start the season. That decision took the complexity out of Cleveland’s decision regarding what they’d do in his absence. Jimmy Garoppolo was a popular name, had the suspension been indefinite or for an entire season. But backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett has 37 starts under his belt since 2016 and is no stranger to stepping into a situation as a backup when called upon.
But how has the former third-round pick performed in those situations? Can Brissett step into an advantageous position behind a strong offensive line and propel the Browns to a winning record before Watson’s timely return in Week 7 against Baltimore?
What exactly should one expect from Brissett?
What to expect from Jacoby Brissett
Brissett has never shown an aptitude for flashy statistical performances throughout his career. His statistical outlook is about as average as they come. He’s never posted a QBR higher than 52.1 or lower than 43.3 in the three seasons he’s attempted at least 200 passes.
But those stats only tell part of the story. How will it look when Brissett is under center for Cleveland?
Jacoby Brissett’s arm is very live
Brissett generates effortless velocity on his passes. He’s also far more naturally accurate than expected, given his relatively low completion percentage and yards per attempt average.
Brissett can make plays from within and outside of the pocket. But despite having the physical abilities of a playmaking starter, his tape has rarely shown that. Frank Reich appeared to keep Brissett’s responsibilities low, but we saw a different player in Miami.
Although Brissett’s yards per attempt were lower, that’s primarily a product of Miami’s offense in 2021. Brissett consistently tested windows on tape to the intermediate and deep levels. In fact, there was even a bit of “YOLO” ball mixed in between him and DeVante Parker.
But the “good” with Brissett can look really good at times.
However, because of the Browns’ roster, we probably will see a version of Brissett closer to 2019 than 2021, unless the newfound confidence in his arm has traveled from Miami to Cleveland.
Solid processor against Cover 3 and strict man
The one thing that came up in 2021 was Brissett’s ability to facilitate against Cover 3 and middle-of-field-closed man coverages. While his grasp in Miami’s offense wasn’t as sharp against the Raiders as it was Tampa Bay, it was clear Brissett felt comfortable attacking the windows that country or “spot drop” Cover 3 allows.
He was largely decisive and accurate when attacking the numbers and slot against Cover 3, playing a two-person game with the cornerback and slot defender that QBs are taught in middle school. Brissett’s arm strength also helps him fit passes into tight windows against soft, non-match zones.
And against man coverage, Brissett does a good job recognizing it at the snap of the ball and finding the man-beating routes within the concept and the individual matchup he’d like to exploit.
Definition of a “sneaky” athlete
We all know this term is usually kept exclusively for anybody lacking melanin who can scoot better than we expect. However, the best quarterback in the NFL, Patrick Mahomes, is a sneaky athlete himself.
When it comes to Brissett, his 4.9-second 40-yard dash is in the 25th percentile of Combine QBs. But what doesn’t get talked about often with Brissett is his size and cognition of when and when not to try and pick up yards with his feet.
Brissett is very sturdy. The biggest positive of his work in the pocket was his ability to shake off contact and extend the play. There is a little Big Ben in his game in that regard. He’s more than capable of seeing man coverage on third down, seeing a crease in the protection, and putting his foot down for those eight yards.
Inconsistent processing and unwillingness to push the ball
It didn’t matter if it was a quick game concept, an intermediate crossing route or stop route, or even deep downfield opportunities; Brissett consistently left meat on the bone over the middle and to the intermediate sidelines.
There’s a chance that Reich wanted him to play it safe more often than not. But Brissett struggled when it came to attacking the intermediate levels of the field.
Teams that run a high percentage of middle-of-the-field-closed coverages should open up the other part of the playbook against Cleveland early in the season. Brissett often missed opportunities to attack behind a “Cloud” cornerback (responsible for the short zone in two and three-high zones).
This is probably the most significant flaw in Brissett’s game that’s kept him from elevating to full-time starter status. However, it also makes him a great backup option because, in most situations, coaches want a backup to not lose them the game.
But while Brissett’s gunshy nature keeps him from turnovers more often than not, he’s also not impervious to mistakes. As with any quarterback under pressure, Brissett makes mistakes when under pressure.
But if the Browns’ offensive line remains healthy, pressure isn’t something Brissett is forced to deal with often.
Browns’ schedule is kind early on
Brissett is in the best situation he’s seen since his rookie season with the Patriots. Cleveland’s schedule has games against the Panthers, Jets, Steelers, Falcons, Chargers, and Patriots to start the year. As long as the Browns’ roster remains relatively healthy early on, they should be 3-3 in Week 7 at the worst. Brissett is good enough to win games with, but given his physical tools, it may still be frustrating to watch at times.