One position requires attention at the trade deadline if the Colts have any hope of turning around their season.
It might sound hard to believe but hear me out.
Nothing about the 2022 NFL season has gone as expected for the Indianapolis Colts. Blame should be spread widely, from the decisions made in the front office to a coaching staff incapable of a fast start to highly paid players who have not lived up to their salaries. We know that much is true.
What is also true?
If Chris Ballard had retained Mark Glowinski or Chris Reed at RG, the Colts would likely be in an entirely different situation.
Consider that two positions on the Colts' offensive line entered the season as question marks. The left tackle position still leaves plenty to be desired, but Dennis Kelly is at least a stop-gap and may even be a better version of one than Eric Fisher was a season ago. The real trouble is at right guard.
The original plan was to start Danny Pinter, who had done a nice job spelling Ryan Kelly at center last year. His biggest weakness is a lack of size, but the hope was putting him between Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith, both highly-paid players at their respective positions, would help mask that weakness. Things didn’t turn out that way. Pinter was regularly abused due to his lack of size and experience. The offensive line's interior allowed consistent pressure in Matt Ryan’s face. Communication was a disaster. Things were... bad.
The coaching staff has tried Braden Smith back at right guard, which is the position he played in college. It just created a glaring issue at right tackle. Things were... bad.
The Colts moved failed left tackle Matt Pryor to right guard. He has the size to anchor but lacks the athleticism to move laterally or to effectively reach block at the second level, which is a key component of the Colts’ blocking scheme in the run game (note the run game has been a massive disappointment). Things remain... bad.
Matt Ryan has turned the ball over at a record pace. His fumbles have cost the Colts games, and pressure in his face has led to uncharacteristically poor decisions. Despite these issues and a group of receivers who had proven nothing outside of Michael Pittman Jr., Ryan has generated over 2000 yards passing, fourth best in the NFL, through just seven weeks of play.
Ryan has been singled out. Media members and NFL scouts have called out his arm strength. His arm is dead, he has no power, and he’s done.
Right, except for facts.
The fact is that Ryan has been highly productive with a dreadful offensive line and what has been labeled a total lack of weapons in the receiving game. He has put up great yardage production despite all of the turnovers. He has done so despite the fact the Colts have not regularly faced eight-man boxes, a reflection that teams don’t fear the Colts' running game.
When more players sit in coverage, passing the ball becomes more challenging. Yet, Ryan has produced.
I mean, who cares about his arm strength? Is Sam Ehlinger’s arm strength going to be worlds better? The knock on Ehlinger is arm strength.
No, the reality is that the Colts are making this change because the team, as constructed, is unlikely to compete with the best teams in the AFC in January. It is unlikely to make the playoffs at all. And team owner Jim Irsay’s edict is that Chris Ballard delivers multiple Lombardi trophies.
There are two reasons Matt Ryan is getting pulled. The first is that he is unlikely to be the man who helps Ballard deliver multiple Lombardi trophies. The second is that behind the current offensive line, his lack of mobility is not just an issue for keeping offensive drives alive, but it will likely lead to him getting hurt. Allowing the second to happen isn’t an option if the first reason is true. As Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk pointed out on Tuesday:
Ryan’s contract already pays him $12 million in base salary next year, fully guaranteed. But millions more would become fully guaranteed ifRyansuffers an injury that keeps him from passing a physical by the third day of the 2023 league year in March, when the payments that are currently guaranteed for injury become fully guaranteed.
Ryanhas $7.205 million in additional 2023 salary guaranteed for injury, and a 2023 roster bonus of $10 million, which is also guaranteed for injury. That’s $17.205 million that the Colts would potentially oweRyan(in addition to the $12 million) if he emerges from the 2022 season with an injury that prevents him from passing a physical by the middle of March.
So, is Ryan getting pulled because he can’t hack it anymore? Because he’s washed up? Because he no longer has an NFL-capable arm?
No. You shouldn’t believe it, no matter how hard people try to sell it.
Ultimately, Matt Ryan’s career and the Colts' season might be over because Chris Ballard didn’t properly address right guard in the offseason. This is how razor-thin the margin of error is for an NFL General Manager. Don’t put even more money into the league’s highest-paid offensive line because you likely can’t afford it; let the next man step up. Result - broken season and the possible end of a Hall of Fame-worthy career.
Again, there are other problems and weaknesses. Perhaps the coaching staff needs to change. Perhaps declines in play from the highest-paid players on this offensive line have made this one mistake look even worse. Ultimately, though, Mark Glowinski at right guard likely means a more productive running game, less pressure in Matt Ryan’s face, fewer fumbles and bad decisions resulting from pressure in Ryan’s face, likely more wins, and likely Matt Ryan still starting.
This leaves one question. Will the Colts address this issue at the trade deadline? If they do, they truly are not waiving the white flag. It would signify a desire to win with Ehlinger under center. Resolving the weakness at that position would send a bigger message than making a change at quarterback. If the Colts don’t do that or at least try, it’s probably best that Ryan stays on the sideline.