Over the Line

Mike Chappell’s story this morning added to a growing chorus insisting the Colts top need in the 2011 draft is to rebuild the offensive line.  While Chappell is certainly in the majority, I strongly disagree.

Oh, I don’t dispute that the line is awful. I’ve been saying that it’s awful since 2008. 

I just don’t agree with statements like this:

A strong argument can be made that upgrades in certain areas — defensive tackle, safety — won’t matter unless significant improvement is realized along the offensive line.

Again, my complaint isn’t specific to Mike. The Colts DO need to upgrade the line, and it is a top three need.  It is the general consensus, but I just don’t believe that line play is what is keeping the Colts from winning the Super Bowl.

Let’s examine the 2010 Colts line compared with five of the last six Super Bowl participants: the 2008 Steelers and Cardinals, the 2009 Colts and the 2010 Steelers and Packers.

ALY Rank YPC Stuffed Rank Power Rank Sack rate Rank QB Hits Hits per 100 throws
2008 Steelers 3.95 24 3.7 22% 30 64% 19 9.2% 29
2008 Cardinals 3.68 30 3.5 20% 26 58% 29 4.4% 8
2009 Colts 3.93 25 3.5 22% 27 66% 12 3.1% 1 44 7.3
2010 Packers 3.82 23 3.8 17% 9 55% 25 7.2% 21 67 12.4
2010 Steelers 3.88 19 4.1 23% 27 64% 12 8.6% 29 78 16.3
2010 Colts 3.80 26 3.8 18% 12 56% 23 2.8% 1 47 6.7

The Colts offensive line was no worse in 2010 than it was in 2009. It was no worse than any of the teams to make the Super Bowl in the last 3 years except the 2009 Saints (who had a great line). The point is not that the Indy line is good, but that having a good offensive line has little to do with making the Super Bowl as this chart plainly shows.  The 2010 Packers and the 2010 had statistically the EXACT SAME offensive line.  There is no difference other than that you can argue Indy’s was BETTER at pass blocking.

In 2010, all the Colts running backs averaged at least 3.9 yards a carry except for Javarris James who weighed the team average down with a terrible 2.4 YPC on 46 carries.  Despite much hand wringing, there was no evidence the Colts line pass blocked any worse in 2010 than in 2009.

Offensive line is a need for the Colts.  Of the guys playing last year, only Pollack is likely to be with the team past this next season.  However, an elite offensive line is simply not a priority in today’s NFL.  A good quarterback can work with weak protection, and running the ball simply isn’t as important as people think.

But what about the Colts short yardage failures?  Didn’t those bite them the last three years?  Of course they did, but here’s the irony: upgrading the line probably wouldn’t have helped.  The first 3rd and short the Colts failed against the Jets came because Tamme blew a block.  The line had the play blocked, but it was the tight end that failed. Several of the other blown third downs were passing plays.  The failure in the Super Bowl was critical, but the numbers show the Colts were actually a decent power running team in 2009!  The 2009 Colts were the best power running team on this list. The problem in 2009 was not the line, but rather Jim Caldwell for not allowing Peyton to audible out of a run play and throw the ball.  Blaming the line for that failure misses the point.  About the only thing the 2009 line was half way average at was power runs.

O line is a need.  Safety is a bigger need.  The Colts have to start forcing turnovers, and a dynamic safety would be a major step toward making that happen.  Lets look at that same chart only noting turnover production:

Turnovers forced Rank
2008 Steelers 29 9
2008 Cardinals 30 5
2009 Colts 26 18
2010 Saints 39 2
2010 Packers 32 6
2010 Steelers 35 3
2010 Colts 21 28

The Colts need defensive play makers.  What they didn’t have in 2010 is anyone who could force the ball out of the hands of their opponents.  Again, I suppose you could argue that in the Jets game, Bethea almost forced the game winning fumble, but bad luck struck, but there’s no question that in general the 2010 Colts struggled to pry the ball loose.

If the Colts draft an offensive tackle because that’s the best player available in the first round, I’ll be fine with the decision.  The line is terrible and needs to be rebuilt.  I will be disappointed, however.  It’s not the Colts greatest need, not by a long shot.  The last three years have shown that having great offensive line play is a nice luxury, but having a great quarterback and a defense that forces turnovers matters more.

The Packers won three playoff games this year where the other team had the ball and a chance to win the game in the final two minutes.  The defense came up large each time.  The Colts last four playoff losses have come on blown fourth quarter leads.

Getting the lead late in the game has NOT been the Colts’ problem in the playoffs. 

Keeping it has been.

Draft for defense, Bill.

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