The easiest statement to write on this site would be the statement: "the Colts offensive line has been bad this year." You'd really get no argument on that.
And that's because it is true - this Colts offensive line hasn't been very good. According to ESPN and NFL statistics, the Colts have allowed 98 quarterback hits - the third highest total in the NFL. Factor in total pressures and the number is much, much higher. The fact that Andrew Luck has only taken 30 sacks (the 6th fewest amount in the NFL) is remarkable and a testament to the brilliance of Andrew Luck, as it shows several things:
- Andrew Luck gets rid of the ball quickly. It's still not as quick as some would like, but I would also caution that with the realization that Colts fans just got done watching Peyton Manning for 13 years - a guy with perhaps the quickest release in football. Sure, there's still room to improve in terms of Luck getting the ball out faster, but that doesn't mean it is bad by any means. In fact, it is quite good.
- Andrew Luck isn't afraid to take a hit. If needed, he will stand in until the last second before he throws the ball, making for a better opportunity on the throw (usually - not always) but at the same time taking a hit. Luck isn't afraid to take a hit when needed (or even when it's not needed...).
- Andrew Luck avoids pressure extremely well. For a second year quarterback (or anyone, really), Luck's pocket presence is incredible. He breaks quite a few tackles in the pocket and makes guys miss quite a bit. He senses the pressure really well.
|Game||LT||LG||C||RG||RT||Sacks Allowed||QB Hits Allowed|
|OAK||Anthony Castonzo||Donald Thomas||Samson Satele||Mike McGlynn||Gosder Cherilus||4||8|
|@ SF *||Castonzo||Hugh Thornton||Mike McGlynn||Jeff Linkenbach||Cherilus||1||7|
|SEA||Castonzo||Thornton||Samson Satele||Mike McGlynn||Cherilus||2||5|
|@ TEN **||Castonzo||Thornton||Satele||McGlynn||Cherilus||1||4|
|@ CIN||Castonzo||Joe Reitz||Satele||Mike McGlynn||Cherilus||0||4|
|HOU||Castonzo||Hugh Thornton||Mike McGlynn||Joe Reitz||Cherilus||1||4|
* Joe Reitz is also listed as having started this game, listed as starting at guard. The Colts used six offensive linemen in this situation.
** Interestingly, offensive lineman Jeff Linkenbach was listed as starting this game at tight end.
Now, understandably, this table leaves out a lot. It's just data, and there's plenty of room where analysis is needed to filter out the details. This chart doesn't factor in the playing time each player received - for instance, in the most recent week against the Houston Texans, Joe Reitz is listed as the staring right guard but he went out early with a concussion and Xavier Nixon filled in, playing 87% of the offensive snaps. A similar situation took place in week two with Donald Thomas starting but Hugh Thornton seeing more playing time. Additionally, the sack and QB hits stat has a lot of variables to it, such as the fact that some of the sacks are on Luck and some of the sacks were allowed by linemen not listed as starters. This chart also looks solely at the pass protection and not the run protection, which is also the focus and theme of this article, thus the reason for the focus on the pass protection.
The line has actually been improving and recently has been much, much better. Why has that been? Well, for starters, the starters have been different. Joe Reitz was inserted into the starting lineup, and last week Mike McGlynn shifted over to center, filling in for the injured Samson Satele. Earlier in the season when McGlynn was at center for two games, the line seemed to be better, and that was the case again last week. McGlynn is bad at guard but he is better at center - still not great, but much better than Satele and much better than McGlynn is at guard. Also, last week Xavier Nixon played well while filling in for Reitz, who left the game early after suffering a concussion. Jeff Linkenbach - who is also hurt - played well at guard too recently.
Chuck Pagano deserves some credit, here - he's making moves. For the first part of the season, he only made moves when injury made them necessary - despite the fact that McGlynn and Satele were both playing terrible. Recently, he hasn't been afraid to make moves - he benched McGlynn in the second Titans game (though the guard was back in the starting lineup a week later due to injury). We'll see if he does the same to Satele whenever the center returns.
Last week, Pagano said that no one would lose their job due to injury:
"Nobody, I don't think since we've been here, nobody's ever really lost their job because of injury, if that's what you're asking me. So if a guy gets injured and somebody else goes in, when he's healthy, he gets his job back."
But this week, when asked if Mike McGlynn would continue to start at center even when Samson Satele returns, Pagano simply said:
"we'll do what's best for the team and what gives us the best opportunity to win the game."
That would be starting McGlynn - but at the same time, Pagano's hand might be limited by injuries. Wednesday, guards Hugh Thornton, Joe Reitz, and Jeff Linkenbach all didn't practice and center Samson Satele was limited. If the Colts are without those three guards but have Satele, Pagano might have to play McGlynn at guard out of need (along with Xavier Nixon).
Either way, what we've seen from the offensive line is this: they're improving. It's hard to get worse than what they were earlier, but at least they haven't stayed there. The past two weeks, the line has protected Andrew Luck well. It would be huge if they continued to do so. We've also seen that Chuck Pagano is improving, too, and that he is learning. He's making adjustments trying to see what works, regardless of who the players are. He's making moves that he thinks is best for the team, and the result has been improvement (in more areas than just the offensive line, too). And lastly, we've seen that Ryan Grigson failed this past offseason in his efforts at improving the offensive line. Talent-wise, this line just isn't very good, and when your best interior offensive line might be best when Joe Reitz, Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach (two Bill Polian holdovers who were border-line roster guys and a guy Grigson brought in at a different position) - well, it's not good. Pagano is doing what he can with this line, but the real improvement will come this offseason - and it's up to Grigson to make sure that happens.
For the second straight season, the Colts will enter the offseason with the offensive line as their biggest concern. But at least for the time being, the line is holding their own and improving despite quite a bit of shuffling.