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Porous Panthers offensive line provides opportunity for a struggling Colts’ pass rush

Colts pass rushers have struggled to generate pressure in recent weeks. They should be licking their chops ahead of a trip to Carolina.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Carolina Panthers notched their first win of the season last week over the Houston Texans, but it wasn’t a relaxing afternoon for rookie quarterback Bryce Young.

The No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 draft was sacked six times in the process of earning his first NFL win. In total, through seven games, Carolina quarterbacks have been sacked 25 times, tied for sixth-most in the league.

“That was too many sacks,” Panthers Head Coach Frank Reich said on Wednesday. “I mean that’s just unacceptable.”

The former Colts coach is perturbed by his offensive line’s performance this season, and it might be just what the doctor ordered for a struggling Colts pass rush.

The Colts have generated 21 sacks through eight games in 2023, tied for 12th-most in the league, but production has been down over the past few weeks when a depleted Indianapolis secondary desperately needed assistance.

Per Pro Football Focus, the Colts only managed to pressure Saints quarterback Derek Carr four times last week, resulting in one sack. Carr finished the game with 310 yards passing and two touchdowns, including multiple back-breaking long completions.

This lack of pass rush against the Saints put more pressure on a battered Indy secondary that is missing Dallis Flowers who tore his Achilles tendon in Week 4 and JuJu Brents who suffered a quad injury in the Week 7 loss to the Browns. Carr took advantage, particularly picking on reserve corner Tony Brown who is more accustomed to a special teams role.

“We gotta apply more pressure,” Colts star defensive tackle DeForest Buckner told “Even if it’s max protection, we got guys that are still getting one-on-one opportunities so we have to win those one-on-one opportunities, especially when they’re down in the secondary. We can’t leave those guys out to dry.”

Buckner produced the team’s lone sack last week and has, as expected, played well overall this season, but his running mates on the outside have been quiet in recent games. Defensive end Kwity Paye, the Colts 2021 first round draft choice, has tallied zero sacks since notching one in each of the Colts first three games to start 2023. Opposite Paye, Samson Ebukam, a major free agent signing for the Colts in March, has been a solid contributor but has failed to “get home” to the quarterback in the past two contests.

Across the line, the Panthers have their own injury troubles, especially on the offensive line. Carolina right guard Austin Corbett tore an ACL in last season’s final game. The six-year veteran finally returned to action last week after a nine-month recovery process. The Panthers replaced Corbett with rookie Chandler Zavala to start the season, but Zavala too suffered an injury (neck) in Week 5. Additionally, Carolina’s other starting guard, Brady Christensen, tore his biceps in the season opener at Atlanta.

Sunday’s Week 9 matchup in Carolina presents a great opportunity for the Colts pass rush to get back on track. Halfway through the season, at 3-5, the Colts season is at a crossroads of sorts. If the likes of Paye and Ebukam can pester Bryce Young in the pocket, the Colts have to like their chances tomorrow.