The Colts offensive line has been impressive through the first three weeks. Just like we all expected, right?
This offseason, fans were once again (rightly) concerned about the Colts' line. In recent years the line has been bad, and while the Colts released Samson Satele and let Mike McGlynn walk in free agency, they didn't make many moves to improve the line. Well, they signed center Phil Costa, but he retired. They drafted guard Jack Mewhort in the second round, but it didn't look like the Colts were going to play him right away, as there's always a hesitation with playing rookie linemen. And in the seventh round, the Colts added tackle Ulrick John. Here and there they added some depth players to the line as well, but those were the moves intended to shore up the line.
The Colts were projected to have a starting offensive line of Anthony Castonzo (LT), Donald Thomas (LG), Khaled Holmes (C), Hugh Thornton (RG), and Gosder Cherilus (RT). That's not terrible, but not great either. Then in camp Thomas went down with a season-ending injury, and on the first preseason drive Holmes went down with a high ankle sprain. Rookie Jack Mewhort stepped in at left guard and undrafted rookie Jonotthan Harrison filled in at center.
Before the season began, Ryan Grigson claimed a familiar face off of waivers - center A.Q. Shipley from the Baltimore Ravens. Shipley was the Colts' best center in 2012 but was then traded away to Baltimore. After he was waived by the Ravens during final cuts, Grigson brought him back.
And despite that shuffling on the line, they have played very well. In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, the line has a +17.3 pass blocking grade - the best in the league through three weeks. The Colts offense is third in points per game (31.7), third in total yards (426.0), fourth in passing yards per game (303.7) and fourteenth in rushing yards per game (122.3).
Believe it or not, the offensive line is actually playing very well. They're giving Andrew Luck more time to throw than he's ever had in the NFL. They're creating better running lanes than we saw last year. Anthony Castonzo has played very well. Jack Mewhort, the rookie guard, has been impressive. A.Q. Shipley has gotten better and is playing well. Hugh Thornton looks much better than he did a year ago. And Gosder Cherilus has been solid.
Perhaps just as importantly, the line has all played together. Out of a possible 1,100 snaps this season between the five of them, only 8 have been missed - by Hugh Thornton last week when he left for a few snaps due to injury. For an offensive line, consistency is huge. The Colts have had that. And the consistency has led to a much improved line.
The Colts' have also helped out their linemen by their scheme and have put players in a position to succeed. We haven't been praising the coaches too much so far this season, but they deserve some credit for the way the line has been playing, too. Finally, in addition to the consistency and the scheme, we don't want to take anything away from the players - they're playing well.
It's incredibly encouraging to see, and it's to the point where I think A.Q. Shipley should continue to start at center (if for nothing else than the sake of continuity), and 80% of more than 2,000 who have voted say the same thing. "We have continuity and chemistry," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said after Sunday's game. "Knock on wood, if you can stay healthy and have the same lineup out there week after week after week out there then it's going to bode well for us."
The offensive line play hasn't gone unnoticed, either. "Ton of pride in that room," Pagano said on Monday regarding the offensive line. "We have great leadership in that room. AC (Anthony Castonzo) and Gos (Gosder Cherilus) are two pillar guys in that room. Yeah, they do take a lot of pride in opening up holes for our runners, protecting our quarterback, keeping him upright and keeping him clean."
"They've done a great job," quarterback Andrew Luck said. " We run the ball better every week I think. I think the continuity is helping and you can tell the guys are building each other up. They've done a heck of a job run blocking and pass blocking."
There needs to be a cautious optimism regarding the line because, after all, it has only been three weeks. But so far, there's plenty of reasons to be encouraged by the line play and it will be huge if that continues. Through three weeks, so far so good for the Colts offensive line.