The Colts' 27-6 win over the Browns last Saturday night was an all-around beat down, with both the Indianapolis offensive and defensive units dominating throughout the game. The first-team defense pitched a shut-out, and Andrew Luck had little trouble moving the offense down the field, scoring 17 points and being within five yards of another touchdown before a dropped pass led to an unlucky interception.
A lot of positive came out of the game, and that's what we'll be focusing on for most of the week prior to the Colts' Thursday night matchup against the Bengals.
But, before we get to that, we're going to talk about the biggest negative to come out of Saturday's win: the fiasco also known as the offensive line. While injuries to Mike McGlynn and Anthony Castonzo magnified issues, the line still noticeably struggled against Cleveland, especially right tackle Gosder Cherilus (yes, I'm aware the title says Winston Justice, but the lulz factor here was too good to change it).
The Colts signed Cherilus this past offseason to be a stable pass protector on the right side. With so much concern resting on the interior, the Colts desperately needed the tackles to be dependable, allowing Luck some room to maneuver when dropping back.
Through the first two games, Cherilus did what was necessary, allowing just one quarterback pressure and earning a cumulative +1.1 pass blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. Saturday night, however, was a different story.
It started with Andrew Luck's first drop back. Cherilus gets turned to the inside slightly on Paul Kruger's initial punch, and can't move his feet quickly enough to get inside the outside linebacker. Kruger takes the opening, and gets a hand on Andrew Luck, tripping him up as Luck tried to step up in the pocket for a three-yard sack.
Meanwhile, Cherilus trips up and falls onto Kruger (or does it purposefully to keep him from going anywhere), but also rolls up onto the back of Anthony Castonzo's knee, resulting in what we now know is a mild MCL sprain.
For a man Cherilus' size, getting punched back like that shouldn't happen. Cherilus doesn't have great foot speed, and quickness isn't his strong suit. What he does have is size and strength.
Unfortunately, that strength didn't show up on Saturday. Cherilus was often overpowered by Kruger and Ahtyba Rubin on the inside.
For (cringeworthy) example, take a look at these two plays later in the game.
On both plays Cherilus gets tossed aside like a rag doll by Kruger, who uses Cherilus' momentum against him and tosses him to the ground while managing to stay on his feet.
Fortunately, Luck gets the ball out quickly on both plays, and isn't pressured by Kruger, but the display from Cherilus is less than encouraging.
Cherilus finished the game with four allowed pressures (a sack, hit and two hurries) and a -1.4 grade in pass blocking from PFF. Now, all things considered, I'm not concerned long-term about Cherilus. It was a poor game, but he hasn't looked like this in the rest of the preseason.
Cherilus has too strong of a history in pass protection for one poor preseason game to make any impact in my opinion of him. I still think he'll be more than reliable in that area for 2013. Run blocking is a different story, but I'm 10x more concerned about pass protection from the tackles than I am run blocking.
But make no mistake, if Cherilus struggles in pass protection, the Colts will be in trouble. The team desperately needs this year's offensive line to be stronger in pass protection, but the change won't be seen if Cherilus isn't an upgrade over the 2012 mix of Winston Justice, Jeff Linkenbach and Bradley Sowell.
I don't see that happening. Cherilus has never finished a season with a negative grade from PFF. Obviously the Colts would rather see him play like he did last season, when he was one of the league's best pass-blocking tackles. But even a simply above-average tackle (in pass protection) would be a major upgrade.
And don't worry. That's it for the depressing stuff from this game. Tomorrow we'll have some more exciting developments from Saturday's big win, including a CA Video Breakdown on Hugh Thornton's impressive debut.