Stand in Line

After the success of the 2008 Steelers and the 2009 Colts, I had begun to openly wonder if offensive line play really mattered in today’s NFL.  After all, if two of the worst lines in recent memory were good enough to take take their teams to the Super Bowl, perhaps the right quarterback could render the quality of the line irrelevant. The line didn’t cost us the 2009 Super Bowl. I don’t think even Polian really believes that.  Sure the Colts failed to pick up the key third and one, but if they had tried to pass, they probably would have, and they probably win that game.

Through two weeks of the 2010 season for the Colts, I’ve seen nothing to dissuade me from that opinion.

This will probably upset some people, because the easy narrative for Colts is that the line played poorly in the game the Colts lost and well in the game they won.  There is some degree of truth to the correlation.  To say that the one caused the other is simply not true.

Let’s think about the week one game.  It was one of the worst line performances in recent memory for the Colts.  Here’s the truth though: it didn’t cost us the game.  As bad as the line played, Manning took only two sacks (and a score of hits).  However, if anything derailed the offense, it was the sloppy play of virtually every pass catcher the Colts had.  Consider this drive chart:

Drive 1: 3rd and one.  Dallas Clark drops pass.

Drive 2: 3rd and four.  Manning gets pressured, but Wayne drops tough, but makeable catch.

Drive 3: 3rd and 13.  Manning steps up and hits Gonzo on the sideline whose heel is OB.

Drive 4: 3rd and two.  Manning hits Garcon in stride who drops the ball.

The Colts got off to a fast start against the Giants and played with the lead.  Against the Texans, the first four Colts drives all ended in punts in part because the wideouts failed.  Three of the four drives had manageable third down distances. On only one of them (the second) was pressure a factor.  Even as the Colts attempted to come back in the second half, only one drive (the first of the third quarter) was derailed by faulty protection (false start and a 3rd down sack).  Another ended on a fumble, and two resulted in touchdowns.

One, maybe two (if you count the Wayne drop b/c of the pressure) drives the whole game failed because of the line. Manning threw for 400 yards, no picks, just two sacks, and the offense put up 24 points.  That number would have been higher, but the skill players rather than the blockers failed.    Even the run game was productive with Addai averaging four yards a carry.  They could run; they just didn’t because they fell behind.  The real culprit in the Texans loss was the defense, particularly the linebackers.  You can’t give up three second half touchdowns and hope to win many games.

Flash forward a week.  The Colts came out and slammed the ball down the throats of the Giants.  Everyone wants to know what changed on the line.  The simple answers (guys are a little healthier, they practiced a little better) just don’t cut it.  No line can improve THAT much just because of one week of practice.  Saturday might be healthier, but CJ missed plays in the game and generally played poorly.  Some of it was the addition of Brody Eldrige (a change I begged for in the first week), but if adding a 2nd TE alone can account for that big a difference, we should send Eldrige to the Pro Bowl now.

The truth is that in Week One, the offense scored 24 points and had a fumble inside the Texans 15 yard line.  This week, they put up 31 points.  Basically, though they accomplished it in a different way, the only difference between the Week 1 and Week 2 production comes down to an Austin Collie fumble.

No one wants to see Manning take a beating.  The odds of a quarterback getting hurt obviously go up the more hits he takes.  Then again, Tom Brady was lost for the 2008 season in the first game, so sometimes crazy things happen.  I liked seeing Saturday play better (not a surprisese).  I’m excited that Pollak is coming around, and I didn’t notice Jamie Richard nearly as often as I did in week one (a good sign for a guard).  CJ is still a mess, but the difference between a terrible first week for the line and a great second week is minuscule.  It probably has as much to do with the Giants playing nickle and dime all day as it does any real improvement from the players themselves.

I’d rather see good line play than bad, obviously.  Still, we’ll keep following the issue all year, but so far, I’m sticking to my guns:  offensive line play is overrated.

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