After releasing a sure-fire Hall-of-Fame quarterback and drafting the second-coming, the Colts proceeded to ship most of the offensive line off to other spots of the NFL globe. GM Ryan Grigson was tasked with rebuilding an offensive line capable of protecting Andrew Luck and bringing the run game into mediocrity, at a minimum. With little cap room, and even less available talent on the market, the team has cobbled together a squad that must find a way to perform at a very high level if Andrew Luck is to remain healthy.
Among the departures were long-time Colts favorites, such as Jeff Saturday, who will be snapping the ball to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Ryan Diem retired rather than attempt to catch on elsewhere. Anthony Castonzo, Mike Tepper, Ben Ijalana, Joe Reitz, and Jeff Linkenbach all remain from last year's squad, but the rest of the unit are newcomers brought in with the intention of getting bigger. The team acquired Winston Justice, Samson Satele, and Mike McGlynn, while drafting Justin Anderson.
So far the experiment is not yielding the kind of results head coach Chuck Pagano or GM Ryan Grigson had hoped but there is cause for hope.
In their first outing, the unit was spotty against a horrible St. Louis Rams team. If you only glanced at the box score, it would appear the offensive line played well. The team threw for 314 yards while gaining another 116 yards on the ground, all without a turnover. But looking at the tape shows us that the line was, in fact, horribly inconsistent. Andrew Luck, much to the chagrin of Colts fans, was forced to take off twice to avoid pressure, while Donald Brown, who started things off great with his 63-yard catch-and-run score, found little running room.
During this week's loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers the offensive line was less offensive. Once again Luck had a couple of scrambles but they were a bit less frightening. One of his jaunts resulted in his first rushing touchdown of the preseason. They gained 85 yards on the ground and were challenged by the Steeler defense along the way. Luck also was introduced the turf by Lamar Woodley taking his first sack of his NFL career. What we needed to learn about the offensive line we learned in the second quarter however. It was during that furious march that we saw positive signs that these guys can play at a very high level. Also encouraging is that they faced Dick LeBeau's zone blitz with no major collapse. LeBeau tossed some exotic fronts at the team and they simply played their game.
Approaching the third week the key is consistency as Greg Cowan noted:
They looked better at times, and Andrew Luck wasn't running for his life nearly as much as he was last week, but the line is still very inconsistent, and is still the unit that will hold the offense back. The right side of the line, in particular, was gloriously cringe-worthy. One has to wonder: what blocks better, Winston Justice, or a 6th-round pick. I'm not referring to an OL drafted in the 6th round, but the actual note card you write that 6th-round pick's name on.
He's right of course: the offensive line is inconsistent, will limit the offensive output and Justice just plain stinks.
One challenge to improving consistency (other than Winston Justice) is the rash of injuries eating its way through the roster. Ben Ijalana was expected to start, yet his season is already over. Mike McGlynn is fighting a high ankle sprain. There's simply not enough talent on the roster to lose anyone else.
Overall, we're watching an offensive line attempting to learn to play as a team. Luck is smart enough and mobile enough to avoid taking too many hits, which will buy them some time. Donald Brown is suddenly a pretty reliable blocking back and running two tight-end sets will hide the weaknesses. If they can manage to find a way to consistently avoid making mental mistakes and avoid injuries they will likely unlock the offense's explosive potential.
I had been saying all off season that the only thing that I felt the Colts needed to accomplish this off season was to protect Andrew Luck. Not getting offensive weapons, not rebuilding the defense - there's time to do those things later. The ONLY thing that I felt really NEEDED to be done, was to protect Luck. A lot of people saw the rebuilt line and said that they'd be better than fiasco of the last two years. They were looking at Ijalana, Constanzo and Justice as sure things. Even if two of the three did pan out, there were still notoriously thin and an injury away from Linkenbach starting at tackle again. We've found out for sure that at least one of those assumptions was wrong and another is really starting to look that way. We have to pray that Costanzo not only stays healthy, but continues to improve, otherwise the Colts will be putting the lifeblood of their franchise behind perhaps the worst offensive line in all the NFL. And that's inexcusable.