INDIANAPOLIS – If the Indianapolis Colts are going to emerge from their latest funk to open a season, the offensive line must lead the way.
It remains one of the pillars of the roster-building approach of general manager Chris Ballard and coach Frank Reich. Offensive line. Defensive line.
“We’re not backing away from that at all,’’ Reich said Wednesday. “You’ve got to have the whole package.
“You’ve got to be able to do everything, but it starts up front. You’ve got to be able to protect the quarterback. You’ve got to be able to run the ball at some level. Same thing on the other side of the ball.’’
Whenever that offensive pillar wobbles, whatever limitations the 37-year old quarterback have are exposed and the NFL’s reigning rushing champion looks like just another back.
In a league that keeps score, the Colts are last in scoring: 10 points per game. They’ve scored on just 4-of-24 possessions, a league-worst 16.7%.
Ryan ranks 31st in passer rating (63.9), 22nd in completion percentage (60.0) and tied-2nd with four interceptions. He’s been hit 18 times, including seven sacks, on 87 drop-backs. He’s fumbled five times, losing one.
Ryan had to believe he was leaving a leaky offensive line behind in Atlanta, right?
Taylor, meanwhile, sits 3rd in rushing (216 yards), but was swept up in the 24-0 mess at Jacksonville. He had 42 yards on two carries, and 12 on seven other attempts. More concerning: 10 of his 40 attempts after two games have resulted in no gain or a loss.
It’s hardly hyperbole to insist if the Colts are going to pull themselves out of 0-1-1 starting with Sunday’s meeting with the Kansas City Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium, they’ll do so only if the offensive line sets the tone.
“I don’t think it’s (putting) too much on us,’’ All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson said. “We need to be better. We need to be better in a lot of aspects.
“It definitely falls on the fronts first. That’s where the line of scrimmage is. That’s where you’re giving up yards or gaining yards.’’
Ryan cast a wide net when assessing the Colts’ early offensive issues. The most egregious cropped up in the punchless loss at Jacksonville. The 218 total yards were the fewest since they were limited to 205 in a 34-7 loss at New Orleans in 2019.
“We’ve got to do a better job across the board,’’ he said. “Myself, protecting it. We’ve got to be better up front. We’ve got to be better on the outside.
“We’ve got a really proud group up front, guys that have been playing at a high level for a long time in this league. I just have belief that we’ve got the right makeup. The guys have the right stuff in them.’’
Again, that was evident in the opener. Despite going just 2-of-5 in the red-zone and Rodrigo Blankenship missing what would have been a game-winning 42-yard field goal in overtime, the offense piled up 517 total yards, the franchise’s 8th-most since 1984, and 33 first downs, 2nd-most in team history.
Ryan was hit seven times, but that’s going to happen when he drops back 52 times.
The offense collectively took a decided step backward at Jacksonville, in large part because offensive linemen took turns messing up.
“Obviously in the last game it wasn’t good up front,’’ Reich said, “but it wasn’t good anywhere on offense.
“It’s just one breakdown here, one breakdown there. That’s the great thing about this league. You’re only as strong as your weakest link. That’s especially true up front on the offensive line and those guys know that. They love that.’’
At Houston, left tackle Matt Pryor yielded one sack and right tackle Braden Smith another. The latter resulted in Ryan losing a fumble.
At Jacksonville, everyone seemed to take turns putting Ryan in harm’s way, including Pryor (at least one more sack yielded), Smith, right guard Danny Pinter and rookie tackle Bernhard Raimann. On at least two occasions, the Jaguars got to Ryan with line stunts that weren’t picked up.
“You definitely have to learn from (Jacksonville), right?’’ Nelson said. “Especially as an o-line we had a lot of mishaps in the game. If we don’t learn from it, it’s going to happen this week (and) it’s going to happen when we play the Jags again.’’
It’s important, Ryan noted, for everyone to evaluate video and learn from whatever went wrong at Jacksonville.
“We all need to do our part, just be a little better, a little tighter across the board,’’ he said. “That’s every person in this building. I think across the board, collectively we have not been good enough.’’
“You’ve gotta flush it,’’ Ryan said. “All the good teams that I’ve been on . . . have gotten their asses kicked at some point throughout the year. It’s how you respond.
“The measure of who we’re going to be as a team is not last week. The measure of who we are going to become as a team is how we respond to situations like last week. I have confidence that we will.’’
Ryan Kelly has been part of the original restructuring of the offensive line. The 2016 1st-round draft pick and three-time Pro Bowl selection has seen the bad – 56 sacks allowed in 2017 – and the very good – 18 sacks allowed in ’18, 19 in ’20 and Taylor leading the NFL in rushing last season with a franchise-record 1,811 yards.
He’s learned to turn a deaf ear when the noise/criticism increases outside the team complex.
“You can sit here and read social media until your head explodes, or you can get back to work,’’ Kelly said. “No one really knows what’s going on in that room unless you’re in that room.’’
The criticism, he added, “is the price of playing offensive line. When things are going great, they’re going great. When they’re going bad, they’re not going great. We have to find a way to get better and certainly reading stuff that says we’re a dead team or whatever and all of that kind of stuff is not going to help us.’’
After two games, Pro Football Focus has Smith ranked 44th and Pryor 50th among tackles. Nelson ranks 10th among guards, but Pinter 46th. Kelly is the 14th-ranked center.
Kelly admitted video review of Jacksonville was difficult.
“Yeah, I mean the biggest critics of our play is ourselves,’’ Kelly said. “It’s pretty tough to go in there and there’s going to be plays you just don’t want to see coming. But that’s the only way to get better.
“The watch film, correct it. You only get 17 of them so the next one is most important.’’
So, flush the Jacksonville video?
“I don’t think you ever flush a game,’’ Kelly said. “A game like that definitely sticks with you. But in the NFL you do the best you can to move on.
“You never let a team beat you twice. Don’t let Jacksonville beat you this week based on what happened last week.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.