The Colts are feeling hopeful and optimistic about their offensive line entering the 2017 season - and unlike in years past, there’s actually reason for that.
Jim Irsay believes that the team’s offensive line is “fixed” (even though Howard Mudd never actually told him that), and that’s in large part based on the promising young players the team has and the work they did in 2016.
As we’ve noted multiple times this offseason, the Colts’ run blocking last year was actually pretty strong. They generated the highest percentage of yards before contact of any team in the NFL last year (per Pro Football Focus), had the lowest percentage of runs stuffed of any team (per Football Outsiders), and were third in adjusted line yards while ranking first in adjusted line yards up the middle (again per FO). Basically, much of what rushing success they did have last year can be attributed to the strength of the offensive line.
That’s what’s promising, but the true test of the offensive line will come in pass protection - an area in which they still struggled last year and will need to see significant improvement.
According to PFF, Andrew Luck was the second-most pressured quarterback in the NFL last year, as he was pressured on 44.4% of his throws (a mark behind only Cleveland’s Cody Kessler at 47.5%). Additionally, in PFF’s pass blocking efficiency grades, the Colts ranked dead last with a grade of 69.5. Luck was sacked 41 times, and only Buffalo’s Tyrod Taylor (42) was sacked more times. Despite all of that pressure, Luck played very well. PFF notes that he threw for the second-most yards under pressure last year (1,399) and the second-most touchdowns under pressure (11), and he has the fifth-best touchdown rate when under pressure in the entire PFF era (3.5%).
So the fortunate thing for the Colts is that they have a quarterback who plays very well under pressure and can manage it about as well as anybody, but that doesn’t give them an excuse for continuing to allow that pressure. There were some signs of improvement last year, but there’s no doubt about the fact that the offensive line needs to keep improving in the area of pass protection if the unit is in fact going to be considered fixed.
There’s promise that it might happen, especially considering the fact that the unit is filled with young guys like Ryan Kelly (who didn’t allow a single sack as a rookie despite starting all 16 games), Le’Raven Clark, and Joe Haeg. The youth up front gives reason for hope that they will continue to improve in the area of pass protection, and they have a very young nucleus of players protecting Luck.
That’s where they need to improve, however. The Colts were actually quite good at run blocking last year, but for them to truly be considered fixed they’ll need to improve significantly in pass protection. Hopefully, they do just that.