INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – This always was the intended result: keep the quarterback out of harm’s way, as much as the violent NFL allows.
So far, so good.
Andrew Luck’s protection hasn’t allowed a sack in back-to-back games for just the second time in his career, and none in his last 125 pass attempts.
But this isn’t how the Indianapolis Colts envisioned getting to this point.
Yes, the grand plan involved Anthony Castonzo at left tackle, rookie Quenton Nelson at left guard and Ryan Kelly at center. All are high pedigree. All are first-round draft picks.
But don’t let anyone try to convince you the Colts anticipated the current right-side alignment. That would be rookie Braden Smith, a natural guard, at right tackle. And not with Mark Glowinski, who had been on the field for 12 offensive snaps in the first five games, at right guard.
Coordinator Nick Sirianni smiled when asked if he ever imagined that combination – the Colts’ fifth of the season and 40th in Luck’s 77-game regular-season career – would be his best combination.
“To answer your question, no,’’ he said. “It seems it’s going to play out one way and it goes a different direction.’’
The overriding factor in the offensive line coming together was Castonzo returning to the lineup in week 6 against the New York Jets. The 2011 first-round draft pick missed the first five games with a balky right hamstring, but once again is providing Luck with stellar blindside protection.
Nelson is living up to the hype that naturally accompanies the 6th overall pick in the draft while Kelly and Luck are getting everyone into the right protection scheme on most plays.
The totally unforeseen development has been Glowinski and Smith, one of the Colts’ four second-round draft picks, stabilizing the right side.
Glowinski is the outlier of the most recent O-line combo that features top-end draft picks. He was a fourth-round selection of Seattle in 2015 who started 19 games in three seasons with the Seahawks.
Sirianni praised the power provided by Smith and Nelson, “good quickness’’ by Kelly and Castonzo’s attention to detail in terms of technique.
His assessment of Glowinski?
“Just mean and nastiness,’’ Sirianni said.
Castonzo described Glowinski as a “grinder.’’
“If everyone had a chance to watch him in the weight room,’’ he said, “I think they’d be impressed. I know I am.
“He’s a physical specimen-type guy who can really move quickly and is really strong. He has the ability to move people out of the way, which is huge for a guard.’’
Luck has been sacked just 10 times despite attempting a league-high 311 passes. His sacks-to-attempt ratio (1:32.1) is the second-lowest in the league and easily the lowest of his career. The previous best ratio: 1:23.8 in 2014, when he led the league with 40 touchdown passes.
Further enhancing Luck’s protection has been a running game that’s improved exponentially with the return of Marlon Mack. The Colts have piled up 347 yards and averaged 5.8 yards per attempt the last two weeks. In the first five, they averaged 74.4 yards per game and 3.7 per attempt.
Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton, who criticized the offensive line last season, offered full-throat support after it paved the way for Mack to notch his first 100-yard game (126) and the Colts to pile up 220 yards against Buffalo’s top-10 defense.
“They made the defensive line quit,’’ he said. “They made them quit. They did an incredible job.
“We wanted to impose our will on them and we did.’’
The challenge to Luck’s protection? Do it again, Sunday at Oakland.
To no one’s surprise, the Raiders’ pass rush has been relatively silent in the aftermath of management trading Khalil Mack to the Chicago Bears. Oakland has a league-low 7 sacks. Bruce Irvin leads the way with 3.
The worst possible scenario would be for the Colts to sit back and enjoy what they’ve done over the last two-plus games.
“We’ve had a couple of good weeks in a row,’’ Luck said. “But like earlier, sort of, ‘So what? Now it’s on to the next one.’ You can’t relax.’’
“I think there’s no doubt you always have to keep an edge,’’ he said. “My experience in general in this league is that it’s sometimes more difficult to handle success than it is (to handle failure). When your back’s against the wall, everybody fights.
“You’ve got to keep that same edge. You can’t listen to the outside noise.