INDIANAPOLIS – Honestly, if this keeps up, Nick Foles is likely to see some starting action for the Colts this season.
When Matt Ryan was traded from Atlanta to Indianapolis this spring, the belief was his new home would offer him more support.
Part of that was pointing to the Colts offensive line, giving Ryan protection that had waned in his final seasons with the Falcons.
And to be fair, the Colts need more from Ryan, himself, in avoiding some of the hits he’s taken so far.
Ryan’s been sacked 12 times and hit 28 times through 3 games (Ryan has averaged being sacked just 5 times through the first 3 games of a season in his 14 years) .
He’s on pace to be sacked 68 times. He’s averaged being sacked 34 times per season, with a career-high of 48.
Those numbers are inexcusable, and the blame is not just in one place.
Think back to Colts protection success in Frank Reich’s first four seasons as head coach.
In those years, the Colts ranked top-10 in sacks allowed each season: 1st (2018-Andrew Luck at QB), 9th (2019-Jacoby Brissett at QB), 2nd (2020-Philip Rivers at QB) and 9th (2021-Carson Wentz at QB). Current offensive line coach Chris Strausser joined the Colts in 2019.
In 2022, they rank 29th in sacks allowed (12) through 3 weeks. Ryan is getting the ball out a tad quicker than Brissett and Wentz did, but a little bit slower than Luck and Rivers.
The NFL’s highest paid offensive line, with a 14-year veteran at quarterback, has been under siege in the protection department.
Under Reich, the Colts continue to employ their detailed standard operating procedure when it comes to the weekly protection plan.
But they have had some changes in the personnel that goes into keeping pressure off of the quarterback.
For one, the Colts took a risk in believing that Matt Pryor could be a weekly starting left tackle at this level. They felt it was time to see if Danny Pinter, who had never played guard in his football life, could handle starting duties at those positions. More so, the Colts handed the starting keys at those spots to Pryor and Pinter. Camp competition at either of those positions was largely absent.
At quarterback, the Colts traded for Ryan partly because they felt his arrival would bring better pre-snap awareness and pocket recognition. The thought was they would avoid some of the heavy pressure plays occurring under Carson Wentz, thanks to a smarter QB who would give the Colts more of a processing advantage.
That hasn’t been felt to the level needed though.
“I felt like there were more free rushers (against the Chiefs) than I felt like I’ve seen in a long time against us. We got to get that cleaned up,” Reich said earlier this week. “I know what the answer is, we just have to get it done. We have to communicate better, we have to coach better, we have to communicate better and we have to play better. It’s always going to be that combination of things. I believe we will. When I watched our (Chiefs tape), our protection, the one-on-one matchups, I felt like our protection was pretty good. The fundamentals and technique and the guys blocking one-on-one. I mean, it wasn’t flawless, but there was a lot of good stuff. When we say communication errors, sometimes that covers a variety of different things. The bottom line is, you guys are asking the exact, right questions. It’s uncharacteristic of what we do and so, we’ve got to get it corrected. It has to be better.
“Obviously, you get a guy like Matt who has a lot of experience, it’s not a problem for him seeing it and understanding it. But it still takes time to work out. Maybe in the three games (Ryan’s) had one or two that he would like to have back in that regard, but he’s been pretty good with it. This is something, as you guys know, that we take a lot of pride in. That’s why it’s a little discouraging. So, we have to collectively pull that together and find ways to be more consistent there.”
Any personnel changes along the offensive line aren’t imminent, according to Reich.
At left tackle, the name most frequently heard as an option is rookie tackle Bernhard Raimann. In Weeks 1 and 2, Raimann played 16 (17 percent) and 15 (30 percent) at left tackle, spelling Pryor in the middle portions of the game. But an ankle injury in that Week 2 loss to the Jaguars led to Raimann missing some practice time last week, and placing him on the inactive list against the Chiefs. Moving Raimann into the starting lineup would help the Colts in his long-term development, but there’s no guarantee he would be a definite upgrade over Pryor.
One more name at left tackle is veteran Dennis Kelly. While Kelly missed multiple weeks in training camp due to a knee injury, he’s back and healthy, and has 51 career starts. Granted, the vast majority of those have been at right tackle, and not left tackle.
If options are to be explored for replacing Pinter at right guard, Pryor might make the most sense. His most starting experience in the NFL has come at right guard (7 career starts). In fact, 13 of Pryor’s 18 career starts in the NFL have come on the right side of the offensive line. Granted, Pryor slimmed down some in the offseason to try and handle playing more at tackle.
Second-year offensive lineman Will Fries is someone the Colts mentioned in the offseason as a name to watch for at right guard, but he never threatened Pinter to start in camp. Fries has played 22 career offensive snaps in his two NFL seasons (all coming last year against the Cardinals).
So, for now, what the Colts need is for their current starting offensive line to make some individual strides in play. But a bigger emphasis should be there on the communication and understanding of where blitzes and free rushers could be coming from.
That’s in the pre-game planning, and then must carry over to game day, with the offensive line and Ryan matching the same thought process.
If you want to put to an area of blame that supersedes others in this current issue, the miscommunication between Ryan and the offensive line has to be at the top of the list.
Until that happens, one eye will continue to be on Ryan, continuing to get up after taking an amount of hits he never thought would be at this alarming number in joining the Colts.
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