Colts’ offensive line sees signs of improvement
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – It’s tantamount to talking about a pitcher’s no-hit bid in the eighth inning, while it’s still very much in progress. You’re not supposed to jinx the guy.
So before diving into today’s topic, let’s ask Anthony Castonzo if he’s superstitious.
“Not very, no,’’ he replied.
We’ll take that as a green light.
Don’t look now, but the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive line is building an impressive streak. It’s one based on durability, and is an overriding reason the team heads into Sunday’s AFC South showdown with Houston at Lucas Oil Stadium with more than a little swagger.
Consider the offensive line is:
Enjoying rare continuity:
Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski and Braden Smith have started seven consecutive games, including the two playoff games in January. That matches the team’s longest streak since 2013. The eighth straight start against the Texans will be the longest since 2005 when Tarik Glenn, Ryan Lilja, Jeff Saturday, Jake Scott and Ryan Diem were together for the first 14 games.
Here’s where we remind everyone Andrew Luck worked behind 42 different starting combos in his 86-game career.
“That’s tough,’’ Castonzo said of the previous revolving door. “You want to keep your guys together.’’
Incredibly durable as a group:
The Colts and New York Giants feature the only starting o-lines not to miss a snap thus far; 358 for Indy, 393 for the Giants. The Colts are the only team whose offensive line and quarterback (Jacoby Brissett) boast 100 percent participation.
“Yeah, those guys are tough,’’ Marlon Mack said. “Tough group of guys, man. They’re finishing and in good shape.’’
Incredibly durable individually:
Nelson has been on the field for all 1,623 offensive snaps in 23 games. Smith stepped in at right tackle in week 5 at New England last season and hasn’t missed a beat, let alone a snap: 1,327 and counting. After dealing with a hamstring injury to start ’18, Castonzo returned to the lineup at left tackle in week 6 against the New York Jets. He’s taken 917 consecutive snaps and 1,231 of 1,247 overall. He was given a late breather in lopsided wins over the Titans and Bills.
“Yeah,’’ he said, “they brought me out of those.’’
There was a touch of disappointment in Castonzo’s response. Offensive linemen never want to come out. Ever.
“It’s our job to be out there,’’ said Nelson, who validated Chris Ballard’s decision to use the sixth overall pick in the 2018 draft on a guard by being selected first-team All-Pro. “No o-lineman comes out unless they’re hurt. As long as we’re not hurt, we’re going to be out there.’’
Perhaps no position is more dependent on continuity – the same faces being there every week – than the offensive line. Being in sync is critical. Understanding the tendencies of the guy next to you is vital. Depth is nurtured during training camp and daily practices, and almost always comes into play at some point.
But availability and continuity are paramount.
“Obviously if you’re available and you don’t do very well, that really doesn’t do any good for anybody,’’ Castonzo said. “But being able to be there and perform day-in and day-out, that’s a big thing.’’
Remaining together as a unit, he added, “allows us to know where each other’s at. Communication is always key and it becomes less key because you’re kind of communicating without communicating, if that makes any sense.
“Everybody’s on the same page. I know exactly how Ryan makes calls. I know what Q’s doing. I know what his fake calls are and what his real calls are. We have our own language.’’
Ballard has been committed to fielding an elite offensive line. He inherited a pair of first-round picks – Castonzo in 2011 and Kelly in ’16 – and in 2018 added a third first-rounder (Nelson) along with a second-rounder (Smith). Glowinski, a waiver-wire pickup in December 2017 after being a fourth-round pick of Seattle in ’15, is the outlier.
That group established itself last season by allowing a league-low 18 sacks and contributing to Marlon Mack averaging 4.8 yards per attempt and 78.7 yards per game in 14 appearances, including the postseason.
Through five games, the Colts’ run game ranks 4th (142 yards per game) and Mack ranks 7th (470 yards). The pass protection is 4th in sacks allowed per pass attempt (3.59 percent, six overall).
“Everybody knows it’s important,’’ Frank Reich said, “but every game that those guys can stay together and play together it really does a lot. It does a lot in a lot of ways when you’re trying to build something.
“The fact that we have been able to do that has been a big part of our success.’’