Feel free to disagree, but the best highlight to come out of this week’s slate of NFL games was a moment from yesterday’s Colts-Jaguars game, when rookie Colts guard Quenton Nelson pulled into the hole and absolutely buried Jaguars safety Barry Church:
Nelson was drafted with the sixth overall pick in this year’s draft, a reach the Colts hoped would help improve their perennially dog-shit offensive line enough to actually keep Andrew Luck’s limbs attached to his body. The decision paid off, and now Nelson is part of the best offensive line in football.
Injuries have had players swapping in and out of the starting lineup throughout the year, but over the last few weeks the Colts’ offensive line has resolved into a cohesive unit. Nelson and Mark Glowinski may be the best pair of guards in the league, rookie Braden Smith and veteran Anthony Castonzo have settled in at the tackle positions, and former first-round pick Ryan Kelly is finally healthy and playing wonderfully.
That unit came into yesterday’s game against the Jaguars having allowed just 10 sacks all season, and was riding a sack-less streak of 160 dropbacks. When the Colts last played the Jags, in 2017, quarterback Jacoby Brissett was sacked 10 times and hit an additional eight times. Jacksonville barely laid a finger on Luck yesterday, though. He dropped back 29 times, was never sacked, and was only hit twice. He finished with 285 yards and three touchdowns, and the Colts won the game 29-26. It’s a wonder what can happen when your All-Pro quarterback isn’t forced to spend the game running for his life.
So what’s changed? Nelson, Smith, and Glowinski are newcomers and have clearly made a huge difference, but Castonzo and Kelly have been there for years as members of various pathetic units that once made it so dangerous to be a Colts quarterback. First-year offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo seems to have a made a difference, and after yesterday’s game Kelly credited the team’s rushing attack for the overall improvement. From the Indianapolis Star:
“We were a different team back then, that’s for sure,” the Colts center said. “Not to speak on it too much, but it was a different offense. We weren’t really — let’s just say I don’t think (opponents) feared our run game the way they do now. That helps out a lot. It’s a hell of a lot easier to pass block when they know you’re running game is pretty good. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
The Colts are averaging 113 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry, and ran fore more than 220 yards against the Raiders and Bills in their last two games. They only gained 81 yards on the ground against the Jags yesterday, but it was enough to keep Jags honest and Luck on his feet.
The Colts have now won three games in a row have a pretty soft schedule for the rest of the year. They’re 4-5 and still have a shot at the AFC South title, and if they get there it will be because the offensive line continues to maul defenses like they did yesterday. Even if they fall short of the playoffs, it’s at least nice to know that you can safely watch the Colts now without being in fear of seeing Luck carted off the field in a full-body air cast.