INDIANAPOLIS — With the Indianapolis Colts set to report to training camp in a few weeks, let's take a quick look at some building points for the team's offense heading into the 2018 season.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
• The Indianapolis Colts' offense was among the league's best at protecting the football in 2017. In all, the Colts turned the ball over just 15 times throughout the year — that's less than one a game, for those mathematically-challenged — ranking tied for the fourth fewest in the league in that category. Of those turnovers, nine were interceptions while six were lost fumbles. If you factor out Scott Tolzien's two interceptions Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams — Jacoby Brissett took over for the rest of the season at quarterback the following week and had just seven interceptions in 15 starts — then the Colts' 13 turnovers would've ranked third in the league (the Kansas City Chiefs, amazingly, had just 11 turnovers last year, while the New England Patriots had 12).
• Despite having a quarterback in Brissett who was learning the entire offense on the fly, the Colts saw two members of their offense selected to the Pro Bowl in wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and tight end Jack Doyle. For Hilton, it was his fourth selection, as he had 57 receptions for 966 yards and four touchdowns. It was Doyle's first-career Pro Bowl selection, meanwhile, as the Indianapolis native turned in a career year with 80 receptions (the second most by a tight end in a single season in Colts franchise history) for 690 yards and four touchdowns.
ITEMS TO BUILD UPON:
• The Colts allowed a league-high 56 sacks in 2017, one year after allowing 44 sacks, which were the fifth-most in the NFL. A good chunk of those sacks allowed, obviously, can be put on the Indy offensive line; simply put, you have to win your battles against the defender across from you. But the team knows many other factors contribute to that high number, including running backs being better in protection, as well as quarterbacks either getting rid of the ball sooner or being sure to throw the ball away before stepping out of bounds for a loss, which also counts as a sack. To help get this area on the right track, new head coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni have installed an offense that is designed to get the ball out of the quarterback's hands much quicker, meaning the offensive linemen don't need to hold up their blocks quite as long. Also, the offensive line itself has undergone quite the makeover this offseason; the team selected guards Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith in the first two rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft, while it also signed veteran free agents Matt Slauson (guard) and Austin Howard (tackle), both of whom were seen working with the theoretical first-team offense during offseason practices.
• The Colts' offense earned just 267 first downs throughout the 2017 season — so, just fewer than 17 per game — a figure that ranked 30th in the NFL. Accordingly, the Colts' offensive drives, overall, weren't as productive as they would've liked; on average, the team moved the ball 25.2 yards per possession, ranking 29th in the league in that category, and they scored 1.42 points per drive, ranking 26th. The expectation is that Reich's offense can boost these numbers, too. As offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles last season, Reich's unit ranked fourth in the NFL with 338 first downs, ranked 10th with 30.5 yards per drive and ranked fifth with 2.21 points per drive.