One of the huge challenges for the Indianapolis Colts this season has been to maintain some consistency on the offensive line. As injuries pounded the line at the tackle position this year, Indianapolis did the best it could to get the next man in line ready, and to shift players as needed.
The Colts have intermittently slid their right guard, Jake Scott, out to right tackle as Ryan Diem has been hobbled by injury problems. Michael Toudouze was called up from the practice squad and was forced into live action a few days later against the San Diego Chargers. Charlie Johnson has jumped in for rookie Tony Ugoh — who was already filling in rather unexpectedly this year for former Pro Bowler Tarik Glenn, who retired just shortly before training camp earlier this year. Reserve offensive tackle Daniel Federkeil has been sidelined with a concussion.
That rash of injuries at two very key positions on the offensive line could have crippled the playoff hopes of many clubs. But offensive line coach Howard Mudd has done a superb job of keeping this group together and making sure that his reserves were well-prepared to step in as needed.
The Colts led the league with fewest sacks allowed in both 2005 (20) and 2006 (15). Heading into their twelfth game of the year they've already allowed 16, which is still good enough to put them in a tie for sixth-place. That's pretty remarkable considering the injury toll.
All but one of Manning's sacks this season were charged to the men that were tasked with blocking for him, while one was just a clean, well-executed blitz by an outnumbered group of blockers who were already engaged with their assigned men. Eleven of the sacks were allowed by the offensive line while the other four were allowed by running backs or tight ends.
The four sacks by that group with five games remaining is a bit excessive, considering they've stayed healthy overall. In 2006, the running backs and tight ends only accounted for 1.5 sacks over 16 games, and in 2005 they allowed a total of 3.5. So part of Manning's protection issues this season lies with those units rather than the offensive line.
But on the offensive line, the biggest problem in pass protection this year has been right guard Jake Scott with 3.5 sacks allowed during 11 games. However, he hasn't played at his natural position, right guard, during all the snaps. Scott allowed just two last year and has a total of 9.5 for his career in his fourth season.
Ryan Diem and Charlie Johnson during training camp.
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
Right tackle Ryan Diem has already allowed two sacks, matching the number he allowed in 15 game appearances last year. So unless he's perfect the rest of the way, he'll slip a bit by comparison.
Left guard Ryan Lilja has allowed two sacks this season after not allowing a single one last year. Of course, last season he split starting time with Dylan Gandy due to a knee problem. He has a total of six career sacks allowed as he comes down the home stretch of his fourth season.
Rookie Tony Ugoh had six starts under his belt before he was sidelined with a neck injury. But up to that point, he had allowed just one sack. Reserve offensive tackle Charlie Johnson, who really didn't have much practice on the left side of the line after a strong year filling in intermittently for Diem on the right side, has allowed two sacks in five starts and nine game appearance. He didn't allow a sack during his rookie year on the right side of the line during one start and 16 game appearances.
As a result, Ugoh and Johnson as a pair at left tackle have allowed three sacks in 11 games, putting them on pace to combine for roughly 4.5 sacks for the year. That's really not too bad for a rookie and a second-year player when you consider the fact that Pro Bowl veteran Tarik Glenn allowed 3.0 to 3.25 sacks over the past two seasons at that same spot.
Center Jeff Saturday simply doesn't let too many defenders get a hand on Peyton Manning. During his nine-year career, he's only allowed 5.25 sacks, including 0.5 so far this season. He's allowed just one sack in each of the past two seasons.
None of the rest of the reserves have allowed a sack this season in spot duty, including guard Dylan Gandy who has one start and five game appearances. He's been sliding into Jake Scott's right guard position when Scott moves outside to tackle to cover for Ryan Diem.
On Monday, you'll find out which two offensive linemen aren't performing up to par in the running game this season and how it's impacting the Indianapolis Colts running backs. And you'll find out which ondes are causing the most problems with penalties versus the 2006 season.
I'll even share with you a surprising player move that I think the Colts should make at the end of this year — and why — in addition to a perplexing problem they'll face in regards to two other spots on the offensive line as well.
Be sure to check in at ColtPower.com on Monday to get the full analysis of what's going on with the Colts' offensive line.
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