INDIANAPOLIS — Not that Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard needed a reminder about areas in need of improvement, but Sunday’s Super Bowl LV reinforced two specific points of emphasis.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes didn’t have any time to throw and was scrambling most of the game behind an offensive line missing injured left tackle Eric Fisher and reshuffled with three players in different spots.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers hoisted the Vince Lombardi Trophy in a 31-9 rout thanks to a pass rush that hounded Mahomes and didn’t allow a touchdown and an offensive line that kept MVP quarterback Tom Brady clean.
Somewhere, you know Ballard was paying attention. The Colts need to have a better pass rush. And offensive left tackle Anthony Castonzo recently retired.
Ballard has always reiterated the foundation starts in the trenches. While most are focusing on how he will solve the quarterback situation after Philip Rivers retired, the GM has to be thinking about his lines.
The Colts defense was 12th in sacks with 40, respectable for the most part, but often inconsistent in the important games. Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner led the team with 9.5 sacks and 26 quarterback pressures. Defensive ends Justin Houston and Denico Autry had 8 and 7.5 sacks, respectively.
But consider that Houston and Autry combined for 22 quarterback pressures. Yeah, Buckner had more than twice as many. That’s why the Colts pass rush, particularly on the edge, should be considered spotty.
Houston and Autry are among several players set to become free agents, too. Ballard has to decide if he either are worth keeping. He spoke positively about both players in a recent season-ending video call. Ballard didn’t hesitate to say he thinks Houston, who just turned 32 after his 10th season, can still make a difference as an edge rusher.
But Ballard also says young players such as Kemoko Turay and Ben Banogu need to step up. Turay, a 2018 second-round pick, played the last seven games after recovering from a 2019 season-ending ankle injury. He had four tackles and one sack. Banogu was a healthy scratch who didn’t earn many snaps as the 2019 second-round pick appeared in nine games and didn’t have a sack.
How much longer can Ballard afford to wait on either player? That’s one of the lingering questions this offseason.
The offensive line was excellent in pass protection in allowing 21 sacks, which tied for second fewest. Part of that was Rivers using his experience to get rid of the ball quickly. But losing Castonzo, a solid 10-year veteran, leaves a gaping hole on the left side.
The Colts could consider moving three-time All-Pro offensive left guard Quenton Nelson to the tackle spot. He filled in briefly without any issue in a December win at Las Vegas.
The position could also be addressed in free agency or the draft. The Colts have the 21st overall pick in the first round in April. The other four linemen return, so left tackle is a position to keep an eye on in the next few months.