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 2019 season.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
» We could easily point out Andrew Luck's 2018 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award as clear evidence of what went right for the Colts' offense in Year 1 under Frank Reich. But the Indy offensive line can certainly take a bow for its role in the Colts' offensive resurgence, as well. Take this into account: in 2017, Colts quarterbacks were sacked on a league-high 10.31 percent of their dropbacks; that was the third-highest percentage in the NFL since 2006. Last season? The Colts allowed a sack on 2.86 percent of their dropbacks, best in the league since the 2014 Denver Broncos (2.83 percent) and third best since 2010. With Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski and Braden Smith all returning up front, as well as a continued effort to get the ball out of Luck's hands at a quicker rate, there's no reason to believe this kind of protection can't continue in 2019.
» The Colts were money on third down in 2018, a trend that needs to continue heading into the 2019 season. Indy ranked No. 1 in the NFL by moving the chains on 104-of-214, or 48.6 percent, of their third-down attempts. That means Indy was effective getting positive yardage on first and second downs, which set up mostly favorable scenarios on third down; the Colts last year attempted 214 third-down plays, which were tied for the fifth-most in the league, but their 104 conversions were tied for the most (the Baltimore Ravens also had 104 third-down conversions, but had a 45-percent conversion rate). Indy also took advantage of its home crowd; its 56.3-percent third down conversion rate at Lucas Oil Stadium was the best home figure in the league by almost six percent.
ITEMS TO BUILD UPON:
» Reich hasn't been shy about his No. 1 objective for the Colts' offense in 2019: run the ball with better consistency. In fact, he wants Indy to rank in the top-five in rushing offense this season. They'll need a considerable jump to get there; their 1,718 rushing yards in 2018 ranked 20th in the league, while their 4.2 yards-per-carry figure ranked 22nd. Now, to be fair, the Colts were mostly without their starting left tackle, Castonzo, and top running back, Marlon Mack, for the first five weeks of the 2018 season. From Weeks 6-17, Mack's 874 rushing yards ranked fourth among all NFL running backs; his nine rushing touchdowns, meanwhile, ranked tied for third. The Colts, as a team, ran for 1,346 yards over their final 11 games, or about 122 rushing yards per game. If they had 122 rushing yards per game the entire season, they would've ranked 11th in total rushing yards, so look for more of the same with a healthy Mack entering 2019.
» The Colts last season struggled at times to secure catches in the pass game; their 33 drops were tied for the fourth-most in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. But Indy also threw the ball a lot throughout the year, so it's more than fair to dive into the Colts' drop rate, which averaged out to about 6.4 percent, according to PFF, which was about middle of the pack. So if the Colts' pass catchers can hold on to just a few more of those passes in 2019, then that could really help move things along at an even better rate. But even if there are a few drops and fumbles here and there, Reich will continue having confidence in whoever's out on the field. "It's an important lesson I think we all learn in this business the longer you're around," he said. "When you have a guy in the building who is out on the field and you believe in them — hey, we all make mistakes. We all are going to make mistakes and the best way to get over it is to line up and play the next play. We preach it, we talk about it. You can't talk about it and not back it up with the way you call a game."