Great news Colts fans ! Our offensive line actually didn't really suck as badly as we thought last season.
Okay, well, we'll see if you agree or disagree with that sentiment after reading through this Fanpost. Hope you brought a lunch and a snack, it's fairly long. At any rate, let me know what you think about my initial foray into a substantial-sized (read: enormously long) Fanpost of any sort here at SB. Let's begin.
Checking out the team stats over at NFL.com, we find that Indianapolis ranked 14th in scoring offense, 15th in total yards, 17th in passing offense and 22nd overall in rushing for the 2013 regular season. That's basically middle of the pack or lower, but it's certainly not bottom-of-the-barrel work.
That last team stat (22nd in rushing) is what many have pointed to in terms of the Colts lacking miserably up front. Specifically, the interior of the OL. Still others believe that this ballclub would be much better in the passing and scoring departments if only Luck can somehow be protected better and afforded more time to hit his targets downfield. And I don't think anyone would strongly dispute that. However, that's true for Luck and it's true for seasoned-vets like Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.
Checking into the statistical analysis at www.proFootballFocus.com (Subscription required) , one would get the notion that the offensive line for our Colts is.....well,....offensive. If we think of the stats at PFF as gospel, we'd find all of our lineman had negative numbers in pass protection - except for Gosder Cherilus, who had an amazing +8.3 rating. For the rush blocking side, every lineman who started had a negative statistical number - except Anthony Castonzo, who had a solid +7.6 rating. And oh by the way, both Joe Reitz and Donald Thomas had decent run blocking numbers as well, though both played much less than others (each guy had over 145 snaps on the year).
Now in pass protection, AC wasn't horrible, having a -0.6, according to the PFF numbers. However, the blind side OT guy can't be in a negative number. Ever. Utilizing PFF as the sourcing, the rest of the guys looked like this in pass protection:
McGlynn - -12.8
Thornton - -16.1
Satele - -0.2
Linkenbach - -2.9
Nixon - -2.8
Reitz - +1.9
Thomas - -0.3
So Satele wasn't too bad in pass protection, and Xavier Nixon (playing in just 155 snaps), wasn't terrbile either. McGlynn was .....wow.....really bad. Thornton might be given a slight pass being a rookie. Linkenbach? Nope.
Now then, looking at run blocking, the PFF stats show us this:
McGlynn - -10.8
Thornton - -3.0
Satele - -13.2
Linkenbach - -5.9
Nixon - -1.3 (155 snaps played)
Reitz - +2.6 (149 snaps played)
Thomas - +1.1 (72 snaps played)
Once again, McGlynn and Linkenback stand out for all the wrong reasons, while Satele isn't looking all that great either. Based on all those statistical elements, it's almost a no-brainer that If Indianapolis wants to upgrade its rushing attack with Trent Richardson and Vick Ballard, and keep Luck from being torn apart behind the LOS on passing plays, then they will need to upgrade the interior of the line. But are those numbers deceiving? Well, yes and no.
Let's look at some other statistical measurements.
Hopefully, I have read the following numbers and statistics correctly, because they had me double and triple-taking when I first looked them over. The following stats come from www.footballoutsiders.com :
According to their numbers, the Indianapolis Colts OLine finished 6th best in the NFL in sacks allowed (32) and they have a 5.6% Adjusted Sack Rate, which basically includes every pass attempt - even those on aborted snaps. Now, I'm not sure what the hell that means, but you're welcome to check out their criteria here to learn more.
I do know that we, as Colts' fans, think Andrew Luck was pummeled relentlessly the past two years by opposing pass rushers. Evidently, it just wasn't as relentlessly as we thought. At least not in comparison to the rest of the league in 2013.
By the way, the NFL average for number of sacks allowed was 40. The high was the N.Y. Giants, who allowed 58 total sacks. Denver was best in the NFL for 2013, allowing just 23 - a mere 9 less than Indy. Maybe we've been focusing too much of our entire attention on the lineman, and not enough on: a) route execution of the receivers, b) QB holding onto the ball too long. Or both. More likely, it's just a combination of that + some problems along the OL.
Whatever the reason, Luck is taking a beating (even if it's still good enough for 6th best in the NFL) and it has to stop, or the franchise QB won't last as long as his predeccesor did -even if he is a big 'ole boy. A couple of other factors not being included (but nearly as important) are how many drops by receivers negated yardage that would have given us a first down rather than a failure on 2nd, 3rd or even 4th down?
And turnovers coming at inopportune times (is there ever an opportune time?), plus special teams blunders that allow opposition offenses to set up in Indy territory too often, putting additional pressure on our defense. Or the defense not getting off the field on 3rd down, allowing teams to score.
Meanwhile, www.footballoutsiders.com shows that the Colts offensive line was ranked 15th overall in the NFL for run blocking, including a 65% success rate in power running situations like 3rd and short, or 2nd and goal plays. The website also says the Colts offensive line was 10th best ( 1-32 teams, with 1 being the least amount of times a RB was stuffed) in the league at not getting stuffed at the LOS.
Whoa, really? It sure seemed to be worse than that to me, didn't it to you?
The impirical data supplied by this website seems to suggest that the offensive line, while it can improve, is probably not quite the disaster many of us believe it to be. (And again, we were hit with some injuries that really screwed up our OL throughout the year, so that has to be factored in as well.)
Our OL, statistically, is right around average when the data of all 32 teams is taken into account. And this was with a "patchwork" line most of the season due mainly to injuries. Still, we know we can't win a Super Bowl with just an "average" NFL line. However, this data also probably confirms what a bunch of folks have been thinking, saying (and yelling) about since a certain trade with Cleveland took place last season: Trent Richardson will definitely want to make sure he improves in the off-season. Or else.
With 17 teams worse off than the Colts in run blocking, TRich won't be able to use the excuse of a poor OL any longer, will he? Trust me, he was never, ever saying such a thing. However, the Colts running game was poor in open field yardage (21st) and marginally better in 2nd level yardage (19th). In contrast, Philly was #1 in 2nd level yardage, while Minnesota was tops in open field yardage, (Shady McCoy and Adrian Peterson), so TRich needs to improve dramatically on that aspect of the game. And Vick Ballard will have more pressure on him as well. I suspect that if we hadn't had Donald Brown breaking off some of the runs he did last season, we would've ranked right at the bottom of the league in those aformentoned categories.
If we're to take the totality of the statistical analysis provided by footballoutsiders.com alone, then we're not as bad off as we thought we were. Still not great or where we want to be, by any means. But not at rock bottom. And yeah, we probably still need to find a replacement for Samson Satele. Though it's probably not a do-this-now-or-crash-and-burn proposition.
The two players GM Ryan Grigson had slated for Guard (Hugh Thornton and Donald Thomas) are now a year wiser in the system and Thomas will hopefully be 100% after his injury. Perhaps those two gentleman (along with some inexpensive, but experienced free agent backups) is all that is needed to bolster the offensive line. The Center position may already be in the process of being placed in the hands of Khaled Holmes, who was interestingly held out of much of the action last season. GM Grigson is known for not wanting a rookie center to be placed into a starting roll, so he was basically stuck with that Satele / McGlynn rotation.
My hunch is that Holmes, along with Thornton and Thomas, will eventually be the guys who make up what former Center Jeff Saturday calls "the triangle" to describe that element of the offense. Of course, all this is predicated on who the Colts release and any activity that takes place in free agency. Meantime, after reviewing the data, can you imagine how sick and tired the guys on the offensive line have become (still are) from hearing how badly we think they suck? I mean, seriously. I can't imagine a single one of them wanting to see, hear or read another comment (if they ever do at all) from any of us about how they did or didn't perform in a particular game.
So, if the offensive line was 6th best in protecting the QB last season, and is sitting right around the middle-of-the-pack in both rushing and power rushing, where does that leave us?
Ultimately, we as die-hard Colts fans have forgotten that one portion of the game that is just as important as talent, execution, desire and heart. And maybe it's actually MORE important than any of those:
Experience. And with that experience comes consistency.
Going back to some more statistical analysis from footballoutsiders.com , they have us ranked at 20th overall as it relates to inconsistency for the offensive line. Stunningly, that breaks down to 18th best in passing, but 11th best in rushing. Odd, no? But here's some more interesting statistical info: Indy was 17th overall in scoring drives and points in the redzone, but only 20th in TD's inside the redzone. Now that last stat seems the most critical of all. If you don't score TD's and have to settle for FG's or nada at all, then it's tough to win ballgames.
It makes me think that because this team is still pretty young in many areas (including portions of the offensive line) that a learning curve is needed, plus repetition, before we can see improvement with our overall execution.
If repetition helps with the experience necessary to properly execute, then it stands to reason experience + proper execution would lead to better consistency. Talent, desire and heart would then be more effective because of the increase of that consistent, proper execution. At least, one would hope it would. Unfortunately, during the repetition comes the inevitable mistakes by younger, less experienced players. But one doesn't learn a thing by always being right. Right?
For me, it would appear that in-game experience is all that is missing as it relates to guys like Hugh Thornton, Khaled Holmes and Xavier Nixon becoming top notch vets. But the same goes for Andrew Luck, as incredibly talented as he is at present. Trent Richardson, Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, Da'Rick Rogers , Griff Whalen, LaVon Brazil and T.Y. Hilton - all have much more to learn before they reach "peak" potential. That can only be great news for fans of the Colts.
You could (and probably should) also include the coaching staff and GM in that realm, because we've all known that the past two years was the beginning of a new era. Are we really so silly to think that great things will just magically happen in one season, and nothing will go wrong or mistakes will not be made ? Yeah, I thought not.
The experience factor there will only develop more and more consistency, which has surely been negatively impacted by injuries. Losing a guy like Bruce Arians and the going through the personal struggles we've seen with Coach Chuck Pagano (sickness) also have delayed full-throttle readiness and overall experience.
That's why vets like Reggie Wayne are such a blessing and a critical component of this team, even while on IR. He knows experience is the key ingredient missing right now. Even through a solid work ethic, training and practice, experience is still a vital requirement to improvement. Without it, there's really no improving our consistency.
So relax, Colts Nation. At least a little bit.
We're not completely a disaster at offensive line, and we're headed in the right direction. Give the front office time to sort through some things on the way to building the product we all are hoping comes to fruition. We're really not all that far away. It would seem to me that we should stick with the guys we have at present and allow them to grow accordingly. Satele might not be the long-term answer, but he could serve as both a mentor and backup to eventual starter Holmes. It's likely that he's been doing that all along.
Other than Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach, I'd say we can probably go another year without being in a gigantic hurry to add interior lineman via huge free agent contract, a trade up or a significantly bad reach in the draft. Anthony Castonzo is in the final year of his contract and might just force us to look long and hard at another LOT, but let this unit work together and build upon last season. And it'd be nice to have a year with no injuries. Then, dial-in on some defensive play-makers via the draft and maybe one or two guys in free agency. Then make some tweaks on offense and reinforce special teams.
Finally, let experience develop our team consistency. Patience required !
I have my bandages, pain killers and bottle of scotch at the ready. Fire away !!! :)