For the past few years, the identity of the Indianapolis Colts has been their offensive line.
Ever since Chris Ballard took over as general manager in 2017, he has been obsessed with building up the front. Creating a dominant offensive line became the top priority after he saw quarterback Jacoby Brissett take a beating all season long.
The focus on the offensive line led to Ballard drafting Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith with his first and third picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. Nelson has become a three-time First-Team All-Pro and four-time Pro Bowler. Smith has solidified the right tackle position for the Colts and is widely considered one of the better right tackles in the NFL.
The offensive line quickly became the identity of the Colts. By the end of 2018, the Colts had developed one of the best offensive lines in the league. “Run the Damn Ball” hats were worn by players and fans alike in support of the unit.
But over the past couple of seasons, the dominance displayed by the Colts’ offensive line has faltered. Losing long-time left tackle Anthony Castonzo to retirement and injuries made 2021 a shaky season for the group. And unfortunately for the Colts, it has gotten worse to start 2022.
The unit has been a shell of itself to start the season, and their performance has had a major impact on the team’s success. The Colts rank 30th in the NFL in pass block win rate at only 49%. It has led to Matt Ryan being sacked seven times in two games and taking a beating on many more throws.
Simply put, the group (from left to right) of Matt Pryor, Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Danny Pinter, and Smith has not been good enough. The Colts are paying their offensive line $42.2 million this year, the most in the league. Playing like they have in the last two games has caused the Colts to lose their identity.
“Most teams lose games in the NFL and certainly we didn’t play up to our standards the first two weeks,” Kelly admitted. “We know we have the guys to do it, we have the urgency to do it. So, it’s all about going out there and doing it.”
One of those on the offensive line who has not played up to standard so far is Pinter. Pinter, a fifth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, is in his first year as the starter at right guard. Pinter has been the backup center to Kelly the last two seasons with Mark Glowinski – now with the New York Giants – starting at right guard.
The transition from backup center to starting right guard has not been smooth for Pinter. According to Pro Football Focus, Pinter ranks 55th out of 70 eligible guards with an overall grade of 51.1. His pass blocking grade of 39.1 ranks him 60th among guards. While Pinter has only had two starts at right guard this season, it is certainly not the start he wanted to have.
Opposing teams have taken notice of Pinter’s struggles as well. The Houston Texans and Jacksonville Jaguars both sent pressure to the right side in order to take advantage of Pinter. Pinter and Smith had a hard time passing off rushers and communicating on stunts, allowing pressure in the face of Ryan.
Although Pinter has not played his best ball through two weeks, neither has the rest of the offensive line. Kelly mentioned after the embarrassing 24-0 loss to the Jaguars that the unit has not been playing cohesively. It takes five to play as one for an offensive line to be successful.
“The philosophy that Chris (Ballard) and I have talked about is it starts up front on both sides of the ball,” head coach Frank Reich explained. “We believe that. We’re not backing away from that at all. I mean, 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.”
Success for the Colts is predicated on how well their offensive line performs. The offensive line helps the Colts take full advantage of the talents of Jonathan Taylor, who is a threat to take it to the end zone every time he touches the ball. When the offensive line is rolling and creating lanes for Taylor, the Colts’ offense is hard to stop.
The same can be said for the Colts’ passing attack. Holding up in pass protection gives Ryan time to survey the field and deliver the ball to Michael Pittman Jr. and others down the field. It makes the offense multiple in the ways they can attack the defense.
To get back on track, the Colts’ offensive line will have to prove it against one of the best defensive tackles in football. The undefeated Kansas City Chiefs make the journey to Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend, and with that comes Chris Jones. Jones has made the Pro Bowl the last three seasons for the Chiefs and has already racked up two sacks and a forced fumble this season.
At 6-6 and 310 pounds, Jones is a monster in the middle of the Chiefs’ defense. His strength, combined with his fast release off the line of scrimmage, makes him a handful for blockers. If Jones gets rolling, it does not take long for him to wreck a game.
Expect the Chiefs to line Jones up across from Pinter whenever they get the chance as they try to take advantage of his early struggles. Pinter will have to be at his best on Sunday to have a chance against Jones. The Colts will also send help Pinter’s way with either Kelly or Smith helping to double-team Jones.
But the time is now for Pinter and the offensive line as a whole to step up and play to their potential.
“We believe in what we’re doing,” Reich admitted. “We believe in who we’re doing it with. We each have to look within, find ways to get better – that collective effort to do that. You find in this league – this is what we experience, this is what we believe. This is what we will stay on, that we will get better and turn things around.”
“We know it’s Week 3, the time is now,” Kelly said. “We have to do it right now.”
For Pinter and the rest of the offensive line, turning it around or continuing the struggles could be the difference between a massive upset at home or their season starting to spiral.
Want more Colts content? Check out the final episode of A Colts Podcast below as Brandon Moses and Andrew Moore preview the Colts' matchup with the Chiefs and the rest of Week 3!
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