Colts avoided 0-3 start, but offensive-line concerns loom large

Colts avoided 0-3 start, but offensive-line concerns loom large

By Ben Arthur
FOX Sports AFC South Writer

The Indianapolis Colts received a jolt of life Sunday from the Kansas City Chiefs.  

Then they took advantage of it.  

An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against the Chiefs’ Chris Jones bailed the Colts out of a punting situation with less than five minutes left, sparking their game-winning drive. And it’s a victory that kept Indianapolis from a near-impossible situation: an 0-3 start to the season, which just six teams since 1979 have overcome to make the playoffs, according to The New York Times.  

“We needed a win,” cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. “We knew that.”

But the signature win wasn’t enough to mask a pressing concern: the play of the offensive line.  

No team has dedicated more cash and cap dollars in 2022 to their O-line than the Colts (1-2). Left guard Quenton Nelson (four years, $80 million), right tackle Braden Smith (four years, $70 million) and center Ryan Kelly (four years, $49.65 million) all play under large deals. For general manager Chris Ballard, investing big in the trenches has been a mantra. Per Spotrac, no team is spending a higher percentage of its cap on the offensive line than Indianapolis. The Colts also have the highest cash commitment in 2022.

Yet, the Colts have been unable to keep quarterback Matt Ryan upright through three games. He’s been sacked more times (12) than all but two quarterbacks. He’s been sacked on 9.3% of his pass attempts, sixth-highest in the league. He’s been hit 18 times overall.  

Picking up blitzes was a major issue against Kansas City.  

“I felt like there were more free rushers yesterday than I felt like I’ve seen in a long time against us,” coach Frank Reich said Monday. “We got to get that cleaned up. … 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.” 

The offensive line hasn’t been able to consistently impose its will in the run game to free up All-Pro tailback Jonathan Taylor, either.  

While he’s currently third in the NFL in rushing yards (286), that’s skewed by a 161-yard performance in Week 1 against a bad Houston Texans team. He was held to five yards on four carries in the first half of Week 2 against the Jaguars, who shut out the Colts. He was also limited to 3.8 yards per carry against the Chiefs, his lowest rushing average since Week 2 of last season.    

“Every defense that lines up against our offense, all eyes are on Jonathan Taylor,” Reich said. “It’s just going to bring a different level of focus. It’s going to make it a little bit harder. … I think just going into the year, with everything JT did last year and our offense did last year running the football, it’s early in the season. Everybody is super hyped. Every defense is super hyped to play our offense to stop the run. That’s the challenge that we have to meet.”

It won’t get any easier for the Colts. The division-rival Titans and Broncos are their next two opponents. Both have strong defensive fronts.  

Through three games, Denver ranks eighth or better in hurries, hurry %, sacks, sack %, pressures, pressure % and rushing yards allowed. While run defense has been issue for Tennessee early (29th in rushing yards allowed), it ranks 16th or better in hurries, hurry %, sacks and sack %.   

After last season’s disastrous Week 17 loss to the Jaguars cost them a playoff berth, the Colts hope another season of high expectations isn’t wasted.  

But if the offensive line issues persist, that becomes a very real possibility, making signature wins harder to come by late in the season — when they matter most.  

“There’s no one thing,” Reich said of the communication issues upfront. “I really think as we continue to go, we’ll continue to get things cleaned up. … We’ll get them cleaned up with things that we have done well. It’s not any one person, any one thing. It’s just a combination of a couple different things. We’ll get them cleaned up and get them right.” 

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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About the Author

Marie Maynes
Marie Maynes is a Sports enthusiast and writes for the Sports section of ANH.