This is precisely why Matt Hasselbeck is the Indianapolis Colts’ $3-million insurance policy at quarterback.
So go ahead and start him on Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The 40-year-old passer with 17 years NFL experience isn’t going to flinch at being thrust into the lineup. Sure, he’ll get knocked around a bit just like Andrew Luck the past three games, but Hasselbeck can handle it.
That’s why the Colts brought him back and paid him so well, right?
I can hear Colts fans screaming on social media already: “Are you out of your mind? The Colts can’t win without Luck!”
If that’s true, then this team isn’t as strong as some have suggested. If that’s true, then the $3 million given Hasselbeck pays for nothing.
It’s not like he’s being asked to beat the New England Patriots. It’s the Jaguars, who just gave up a franchise-record 51 points in a 34-point loss at New England.
The Colts have beaten these Jags by an average of 23.6 points in the last five meetings. And Hasselbeck has enough weapons to exploit a Jags pass defense that relies on zone coverages, which means fast receivers such as T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett will be able to find soft spots rather quickly.
That’s important because what worked for the Colts in the fourth quarter of their 35-33 comeback win at Tennessee was the quick passing attack. Stick with that. There’s no need for long drop backs to make Hasselbeck susceptible to blitzes.
And dare I say, 34-year-old wide receiver Andre Johnson will know where to find open spots, too. The Colts need to get him going and now is as good a time as any, after he failed to have a catch last week, just the second time that’s happened in his 13-year career.
Loosen up that defense with quick strikes, back off some of those defenders, and then run Frank Gore at the Jaguars. As the Patriots showed last week with four rushing touchdowns, the run lanes will be there if Hasselbeck can simply execute enough quick strikes early on.
Consider, also, the bigger picture. Luck didn’t practice much this week, not like usual anyway. That right shoulder is sore. It should feel a whole lot better after a week off, should it not?
And, lest anyone forget, the Colts have a short week with a Thursday game at Houston next week. If Luck rests, it stands to reason he’ll be more fresh for that turn-around. That’s important because the Texans sound like they’re about to get running back Arian Foster on the field, and he runs wild on the Colts. That’s going to be a tough game.
The Colts need to run the table in this early tour of the AFC South Division, just like they have in the past in winning a league-best 14 consecutive games against the Jaguars, Titans and Texans. Beat the Jags on Sunday, then the Texans next Thursday, and the Colts have rebounded a bit to 3-2 entering a home game against (insert shudder) the Patriots.
Few want to even think about the Patriots now, the way the Colts are playing. So let’s not.
Just win Sunday with Hasselbeck. Give your franchise quarterback a break. He needs it. He deserves it, after all the pounding he’s taken in 51 regular-season games and six playoff starts.
Sure, it’s possible Luck wakes up Sunday morning and assures head coach Chuck Pagano he can go. There’s no doubt in my mind, regardless of how much less he’s prepared physically in practice, Luck will want to play.
But so many times we hear Pagano talk about saving a player from himself with rest. If ever there was a time to give it to Luck, it’s now.
And should the Colts lose with Hasselbeck, well, that’s more of a statement about the rest of this team, is it not? That might sound like an unacceptable outcome, but at least the Colts will be forced to realize how much this team is so reliant on Luck.
Then hopefully they’ll do something about protecting him better in the future. They’ll go more with maximum protections so teams can’t just blitz him crazy all the time, especially when it’s a third-and-long situation. We won’t have to watch this three-time Pro Bowl passer get hit as he throws and provide defenders with the easiest of interceptions.
The hunch is, however, that Hasselbeck will deliver. Go ahead, call me crazy. It wouldn’t be the first time someone has said that.
But it seems crazier to let Luck play when he’s hurting. He’s the franchise. He’s the future.
He’s been killing himself trying to make plays and it’s obviously affected his production. He’s been pressing too much, throwing seven interceptions, because he’s trying to take on as much responsibility as humanly possible. He’s been trying to do too much.
Give Luck the weekend off. It makes a lot of sense.
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.