Colts must put any bias and experience arguments aside and start Isaiah Rodgers Sr.

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 28 Isaiah Rodgers #34 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates during the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - NOVEMBER 28 Isaiah Rodgers #34 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates during the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 28, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Isaiah Rodgers has proved he’s better than Brandon Facyson and it’s time for the Indianapolis Colts to do what should’ve been done.

From the fans to the media, it’s evident that Indianapolis Colts connoisseurs of all kinds are simply befuddled at defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s decision to limit Isaiah Rodgers Sr.’s snaps defensively. Despite adversarial success through six weeks, it’s concerning that such a glaring problem remains ever so prevalent when what feels like an obvious solution is at one’s disposal.

Before joining the Colts, Brandon Facyson had only ever exclusively played under one defensive coordinator in his four years in the NFL. You guessed it – that man would be none other than Gus Bradley. The Virginia Tech product began his NFL career as an undrafted free agent for the Chargers. After quickly cementing himself a spot on the Bolts’ initial 53-man roster, Facyson would become a mainstay in the secondary for the foreseeable future.

While netting himself an additional two contract years to remain a Charger, Facyson would play out his contract under Bradley, ultimately following Bradley to Las Vegas for a one-year stint with the Raiders in 2021. That as you know, brings us back to yet another Facyson/Bradley reunion in Indianapolis. Unfortunately, it’s been tough sledding thus far when it comes to buying into Facyson stock. Badly missed tackles come to the forefront of most Colts fans’ brains when being reminded of his play.

Brandon Facyson is struggling in a scheme he knows

It’s one thing for the homegrown members of the Colts’ defense to find themselves indecisive when adjusting to a brand-new scheme. More so, Grover Stewart and Kenny Moore II are the longest-tenured players of the Colts’ D (since 2017). Even they are considered products of the Eberflus defense of recent memory (2018-2021) despite playing under defensive coordinator Ted Monachino for their rookie season(s). I include this tidbit to prove that even Pro Bowl-caliber players have slow starts when acclimating themselves to a new scheme (see Kenny Moore II).

However, even though Facyson has never been regarded as such, it’s worrisome that he has continued to struggle this late in the season when this system, and more specifically his role, has never been foreign to him since he’s entered the league.

Head coach Frank Reich has admitted that Facyson has struggled early on, although to be fair, even the most casual of football fans could’ve seen that. Gus Bradley even recognized Facyson’s poor play, but the team is betting on Facyson’s track record in the system. As the CB2 rotation of recent weeks looks like it’ll stay, this isn’t to presume Reich and Bradley as remaining ignorantly complacent.

Rodgers Sr. has out-snapped Facyson lately, but at some point, you question the logistics behind the decision to keep starting Facyson. Maybe Rodgers Sr.’s versatility on special teams bodes well for Facyson’s playing time defensively, especially given that All-Pro Special Teamer Ashton Dulin was placed on IR last week. In Week 6 against Jacksonville, Rodgers played 51% of snaps on defense and 52% of snaps on special teams, whereas Facyson only saw 38% of snaps defensively. Regardless, with the Rodgers Sr. sample size we’ve seen so far, it’s clear that he shouldn’t be in a snap battle with Facyson in the first place, he should be starting.

Isaiah Rodgers has graded better than Brandon Facyson

Similar to the relationship of Football Outsiders-DVOA, which I covered in an article last week, the PFF-Player Grades relationship aims to dive deeper into a player’s performance each and every week. PFF focuses on individual play, whereas Football Outsiders typically harps on unit performance, but the sentiment remains the same: both statistic-based conglomerates attempt to tell all sides of the story versus merely browsing box scores.

These player grades are basically as they sound, as PFF analyzes every player and every play of every game of a season in order to compose these scores. If you know in your heart of hearts that a player has undershot expectations, or inversely, you think a player has been an unsung hero, chances are PFF’s player grades can provide closure to that. For example, and not to pick on another struggling Colts cornerback, but Kenny Moore II though six weeks has eclipsed bottom-tier status as he ranks 98th out of a qualifying 108 graded cornerbacks. For a freshly nodded Pro Bowler, the expectation for Moore II is far higher than that of a glorified role player in Facyson.

When comparing Facyson and Rodgers Sr. in terms of player grades, Rodgers Sr. by far outshines Facyson. Granted, Facyson has played 74 more defensive snaps (190 versus 116), but Rodgers Sr.’s grade is so good that it’s almost impossible to ignore. It’s not just that much better than Facyson, it’s among the best in the league. Again, you have to take into account the difference in sample sizes, nonetheless, Rodgers Sr.’s sixth-best player grade among all qualifying cornerbacks (82.3) is almost reason alone to grant him more playing time; when compared to Facyson (59.1), it’s jarring that’s the obstacle in the way.

Lastly, I find concern in the fact Gus Bradley and Co. are betting on Facyson’s track record in his system to find his footing. When referring to PFF’s player grades, Facyson only declined during his four previous years under Bradley. Admittedly, he had a solid rookie campaign, especially for a UDFA, with a grade of 70.3, but the problem arises with what followed.

In those next three years, Facyson’s player grade would diminish by the season, dropping from 70.3 to 60.3, then to 58.7 in year three, and ultimately finishing with an abysmal grade of 49.1 last year in Las Vegas. Solely from a PFF player grade standpoint, and aside from positional depth purposes, the intrigue of bringing Facyson back to Bradley seems like an inevitable failure.

Colts need to explore Isaiah Rodgers’ potential

The most bizarre thing to me about this whole ordeal is when you really evaluate Rodgers Sr. and what he’s accomplished thus far in his short career, it makes even less sense why he’s been limited in 2022. Since being drafted in the sixth round in 2020, Rodgers Sr. was always seen as an explosive threat. This means, anytime you get the ball in this guy’s hands, he’s a threat to score. Of course, he’d be used on special teams, primarily as a kick/punt returner, but nobody saw the 5-foot-10-inch cornerback from UMass emerging as an NFL starter, especially this early on.

In his rookie year, he saw zero defensive snaps in all but five games (the most being 33% in Week 2 against Minnesota). He was, however, the main kick-returning option, where he remained on brand from college by taking one back and even netted 500+ return yards for the season. Last year in 2021, Rodgers still returned kicks but saw a drastic increase in playing time defensively.

Ultimately only playing a total of 48% of snaps on the season, Rodgers Sr. still managed to intercept three passes. Calculating his statistics based on the pace from his 2021 season, Rodgers Sr. would end the year with six interceptions, something a Colts defender hasn’t done since Mike Prior in 1992. Even through six games this year, he has recovered three fumbles (one in the punt game during Week 1, a game where he played 0% of defensive snaps). Needless to say, if, given the chance, Rodgers Sr. can reach elite status.

Isaiah Rodgers needs to start

Here’s not to say that Brandon Facyson should be completely phased out of the defense because he is certainly better than other CB3/CB4s of other times. The pertinacious decision to keep starting him, regardless if Rodgers Sr. is valued more for special teams, is only hindering the defense, and more importantly the team, from sustainable success.

The defense in general has been solid, and even elite in fourth-quarter play, but with Shaquille Leonard inching closer to playing, it’s best to find and establish continuity on the defensive side of things. Starting Isaiah Rodgers Sr. is the first step in that process, and it really shouldn’t be overthought.