Shortly after training camp began last year, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano told SiriusXM NFL radio that, "from a continuity standpoint I think our offensive line is better than last year." And then even throughout the season, Pagano emphasized just how important continuity was along the line.
Yet not only were the Colts worse at the area of offensive line continuity in 2014 than the year before, they were also the second-worst team in that area since 2000, according to Football Outsiders (hat tip to Pro Football Talk for catching this). Here's what Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz wrote about the stat:
Continuity score takes three variables: number of starters used, number of times the starting line changes between games, and longest stretch starting the same five guys in the same five spots. It works out so that the highest possible score in each variable is 16, and the highest total is 48. We have this tracked going back to 2000. Every season at least one team had a 48, until last season.
Basically, this metric tries to measure just how much continuity each offensive line has throughout the season, and in my opinion, continuity along the line is one of the most important yet often overlooked keys to a unit playing well together. It's really no surprise, then, to see a struggling offensive line have a poor continuity score. Schatz notes that last year was a very bad year across the entire NFL, but one team stood out among all others as the worst: the Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts had an overall continuity score of 19 (out of 48) in 2014, which was the lowest among NFL teams. They tied for the league lead with 10 different starters throughout the regular season, led the league with 11 different changes to the line, and were tied for the shortest stretch with the same five players starting (3 games) - and to cap it off, their score decreased by 10 points from a year ago. In fact, the Colts' continuity score in 2014 was the second-worst for any NFL team since 2000, with only the 2007 Rams being worse.
But this isn't just an issue that occurred last year for the Colts. Consider what Football Outsiders' says about the Colts over the past several years:
This is not a one-year problem for the Colts. Andrew Luck covers up a lot of problems on the offensive line with his awesomeness. The Colts were close to the bottom of the league with a 29 continuity score in 2013, and were tied for dead last in the league with 22 in both 2011 and 2012. The Colts haven't had an offensive continuity score above 30 since 2007. For comparison purposes, in 2014 the average team was at 30.7, and that was the lowest of any year in the data.
Injuries play a significant part in this, as last year right guard Hugh Thornton and right tackle Gosder Cherilus were battling injuries. Left guard Jack Mewhort also missed a couple of games due to injury as well. But it wasn't just all due to injuries - it also had to do with the Colts' management. After Khaled Holmes was injured early in training camp, the team claimed A.Q. Shipley off of waivers to start the season. He started the first four games there and played well, but then the Colts made the switch to Jonotthan Harrison. He started the next ten games but didn't play well, so they switched to Khaled Holmes again. It wasn't all injury; Chuck Pagano also made some changes to the lineup throughout the season.
Ultimately, continuity along an offensive line is one of the most important factors for an offensive line, as you want your unit to get used to playing with each other. The Colts haven't been able to do that for a number of years, but it reached a new low in 2014. When you consider that the Colts have struggled with below average offensive line play for a number of years, it's easy to see a potential correlation between them having so many changes in their lineup and having poor offensive line play. So perhaps for the Colts, the most important thing in order to improve their line is simply getting their players to play together. Of course, injuries happen and every team has to adjust to those, but the Colts could also help themselves out a bit by not switching up the line as much as they did last year.