Throughout Sunday's game, specifically in the first half, I was impressed with Andrew Luck, but not in the traditional, "look at that arm!" kind of way. It was his poise; despite the intense pressure Luck faced, he never threw stupid passes, always made sure to protect the ball, and turned the ball over zero times.
In a game where Houston scored 21 first-half points, that was a big deal.
While he started lighting it up in the second half, the thought still lingered: why does Luck look like he's about to go down every time the ball gets snapped? Irsay's policy this year: get Luck protected, get a run game going. Good job early, Jim, but what's happened? Josh Alper writes on the subject, via NBC.
While it is generally a good idea to heed the wishes of the man signing your check, the Colts haven’t done what Irsay demanded. The team has given up the third-most quarterback hits of any team in the NFL and they are on pace to allow around the same number of sacks as they allowed last season even though the Colts have thrown the ball less often this season.
Alternately, Dan Hanzus has a similar article via NFL.com, on the o-line worries in Indy.
The quarterback is playing at an elite level, but Indy continues to fall short in one of its most important objectives: Keeping Luck off his back. The Texans were credited with four sacks and 11 quarterback hits. Overall, the Colts' line has allowed 63 quarterback hits, the third-most in the NFL. Luck has been taken down for 19 sacks, putting the team on a pace very close to the 41 sacks he took during his rookie season.
Basically, people saw Indy on Sunday and thought "HEY. We know why they're struggling (pre-halftime)! It's 'cause that Luck guy can't even look around before he's drilled! Poor guy." I'll be honest - Indy's line has looked half decent at times. A-Cast put in one of his best pro games against San Francisco, Gosder Cherilus has been one of their best pickups this year ... and yet, the inside blocking just isn't there.
Is it the runningbacks? Last week, Trent Richardson - apparently a worse blocker than Brown - stepped up on a play-action fake and totally missed his assignment. Houston had a good defensive line, but they looked like New York's superbowl-winning '07 line on Sunday (speaking of the most enjoyable defensive performance I've seen in the last decade).
Is it the injuries? Satele's been injured on and off this year, causing the oft-hated Mike McGlynn to sub under center. Donald Thomas, who started off the season at guard, was done for the year early on. Justin Anderson, a backup guard, is also out for the year.
(my point is, they're missing a few guys)
Whatever the problem, it's something Indy will need to sort out by the end of the season. McGlynn is a good backup, sure. I'd advocate to keep him in the starting role for as long as possible, because o-lines are always better with experience. Hugh Thornton, another liability, is going to improve as well; as a rookie, getting him early experience will pay dividends in the future. Hence, my solution:
For the moment, you have a team on the verge of a playoff spot, likely a #2 or #3 seed. While things are bad now, your primary concern is not the rest of the season; it's protecting Luck, and improving your team. While the line could use some work, replacing guys at this point would mess with a system already gasping for depth. Keep those five - Cherilus, McGlynn, Satele, Thornton, and A-Cast - starting every week, and they'll start to work better together.
Come playoff time, this could still be an issue - but it will definitely be one if they start mucking around with things.