Indianapolis O-line among worst in NFL

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS -

Aw­ful of­fen­sive line play and quar­ter­back in­juries are the two quick­est ways for a foot­ball team’s sea­son to fall apart.

The Indianapolis Colts have en­dured both in stum­bling to a 3-9 record.

With fran­chise QB An­drew Luck out for the year due to shoul­der surgery, young Ja­coby Bris­sett is learn­ing on the job. Bris­sett has a big arm, ideal size and he moves well.

But the Colts’ of­fen­sive line strug­gles hin­der his devel­op­ment.

Indianapolis has given up a league­high 51 sacks. That’s on pace for 68 for the sea­son, which would be sec­ond worst in the NFL in the past 10 years and tied for fifth worst in the last 20 years. (The 20-year low is 76, al­lowed by the ex­pan­sion Houston Tex­ans in 2002.)

Here’s a sub­jec­tive rank­ing of the NFL’s worst of­fen­sive lines this sea­son:

1. New York Gi­ants. The Gi­ants lead the NFL in three-and-out drives and are 27th rush­ing. Eli Man­ning makes the sack num­bers look re­spectable but tack­les Ereck Flow­ers and Chad Wheeler have been poor. In­juries have taken out Wes Rich­burg and D.J. Fluker. They’re sec­ond worst in the league in run­ning on third and 1 or 2 (8 of 18).

2. Houston: The Tex­ans are 29th in sacks al­lowed and have yielded the most pres­sures in the NFL (17 a game), ac­cord­ing to Pro Foot­ball Fo­cus.

3. Indianapolis. The Colts are 28th in rush average and 29th in three-and­out drives. A sea­son-end­ing in­jury to guard Jack Me­whort didn’t help.

4. Arizona: The Car­di­nals are 32nd in rush­ing yards and rush average. In­juries to the two best line­men (Mike Iu­pati and D.J. Humphries), plus a lot of down­field pass­ing has hurt pass pro­tec­tion.

5. Cincinnati: The Ben­gals were dec­i­mated by the free-agency loss of tackle An­drew Whit­worth and guard Kevin Zeitler. The Ben­gals are 30th in rush­ing and rush average and last in time of pos­ses­sion.

Dis­hon­or­able men­tion: Denver, Chicago, Seat­tle and Detroit.

Colts vs. blitz

The Colts’ young of­fen­sive line has The Colts lead the league in sacks al­lowed. This was a sack by Jaguars line­backer Paul Posluszny (51) last week in which Jack­sonville rushed five and the Colts had seven pass pro­tec­tors. The de­fen­sive tackle over the cen­ter and the de­fen­sive end over tight end Bran­don Wil­liams both scooped to their right to draw block­ers. Then Posluszny blitzed through the C gap, out­side the tackle. Rookie back Mar­lon Mack whiffed on Posluszny, and Wil­liams missed the block on line­backer Blair Brown (53). strug­gled with post-snap ad­just­ments and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Eight of 12 sacks the past two weeks have come against the blitz.

“When peo­ple smell blood in the wa­ter, you’ve got to put fires out,” said Colts coach Chuck Pagano, chan­nel­ing metaphors. “If you don’t put fires out, they’re go­ing to keep com­ing un­til you stop it. That’s on us.”

In seven drafts from 2009 to 2015, they got just two com­pe­tent O-line­men (An­thony Cas­tonzo in the first-round in 2011 and Me­whort in the sec­ond round in 2014).

In 2016, they drafted three O-line­men. First-round cen­ter Ryan Kelly of Alabama looks promis­ing. Third-rounder Le’Raven Clark has strug­gled. Fifth-rounder Joe Haeg shows some prom­ise but is in­con­sis­tent. Mean­while, left guard Jeremy Vu­jnovich and right tackle Den­zelle Good are li­a­bil­i­ties.

The 30,000-foot view

Colts Gen­eral Man­ager Chris Bal­lard, hired in Jan­uary, is in a sim­i­lar spot as Buffalo coun­ter­part Bran­don Beane in the sense he must make up for years of poor draft­ing. The Colts opened the sea­son with just 21 of their own drafted play­ers on their ros­ter, sec­ond fewest in the NFL (to Buffalo, which had 16). The dif­fer­ence, of course, is Bal­lard has Luck, pre­sum­ing the star QB fully re­cov­ers from shoul­der surgery 11 months ago.

In the last seven years, Indianapolis has de­voted just one pick in the top two rounds to a front-seven player (bust Bjorn Werner in 2011). The Colts have not drafted a front-seven de­fender who has starred for them since Robert Mathis in 2003. That counts 33 front-seven draftees; not one a high-level starter. (In 2010, they took Jerry Hughes, who was un­pro­duc­tive in Indy but has turned into a star for the Bills).

Game-breaker

T.Y. Hil­ton. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.34 sec­onds in 2012. Only four re­ceivers at the com­bine have run faster than 4.30 in the past 10 years.

Weak links

Of­fen­sive line and de­fen­sive back­field. The Colts have just five healthy cor­ner­backs this week, and they’ve com­bined for four starts. Three are rook­ies.

Blown leads

The Colts have blown four dou­bledigit, sec­ond-half leads this sea­son. Those came in losses to Arizona (16-13), Cincinnati (24-23), Pitts­burgh (20-17) and Tennessee (20-16).

“You have to finish,” Pagano said. “When it gets to be crunch time, we seem to make some crit­i­cal mis­takes in crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions. Whether it’s third down or red zone ... late turnovers, es­pe­cially in your own end of the field. It costs you.”

Key in­jury

The Colts rank 13th against the run. De­fen­sive line­men Johnathan Hank­ins, Al Woods and Jabaal Sheard are play­ing well. But the Colts’ run front took a hit Tues­day when top line­backer John Si­mon (neck) went on in­jured re­serve.

Stat for the road

Colts place-kicker Adam Vi­natieri, who turns 45 on Dec. 28, has the best per­cent­age in the NFL over the past four years (104 of 112, 92.9). He’s No. 2 in NFL his­tory in points scored and field goals made, be­hind only Morten Andersen, who played un­til age 47. How­ever, Vi­natieri is just 11 of 20 kick­ing in Or­chard Park, by far his worst venue.

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