INDIANAPOLIS — "When you put on the tape and when you play us, I want people to feel our O-line... at all points."
Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard left no doubt about how the team feels about having a strong offensive line when he spoke to reporters this time last year.
When you put attention and effort into something, it typically leads to results, and that's been no different for the Colts.
One ironclad unit of the Colts for the last season-and-a-half has been the offensive line. It had some historic marks for the 2018 season, and followed it up with more accomplishments in 2019.
According to Pro Football Focus, the Colts had the NFL's third-best offensive line in 2019:
"Continuity on an offensive line is always a good thing. That's exactly what the Colts got in 2019 with all five starters playing over 1,000 snaps on the season. A group that was much maligned when Andrew Luck was having frequent dates with the turf has quickly become one of the top groups in the NFL, led by Quenton Nelson. The Notre Dame product was the highest-graded left guard as a rookie last season when you include the postseason, and he's back on top in Year 2. He's been especially dominant in the run game — Nelson's two-year run-blocking grade leads all guards."
THE FRONT LINE
The saying goes, "the best ability is availability." Well, the Colts' offensive linemen were pretty available for their teammates in 2019, as the offense fielded the same starting five offensive linemen in all 16 games for the first time since 2000.
Led by two-time First-Team All-Pro left guard Quenton Nelson's 91.2 PFF grade and left tackle Anthony Castonzo's 81.3, the Colts' top six offensive linemen averaged a grade of 76.3, which would count as the 19th-best individual offensive lineman in the league.
Nelson had the highest PFF grade of his career. He was second among all NFL guards, and he was the top left guard. His 82.8 pass-blocking grade was sixth among guards, and his 90.1 in run blocking was second. He was also named First-Team All-Pro by PFF.
Castonzo played all 1,076 offensive snaps for the Colts and had the third-best graded season of his nine-year career in 2019, also making PFF's All-Pro squad, earning Second-Team honors. He finished as the No. 5-ranked offensive tackle and No. 2 left tackle. His 84.4 pass-blocking grade ranked sixth among tackles (and was the second-highest of his career), and his 70.2 run-blocking grade finished eighth. He was the ninth-ranked overall offensive lineman, finishing No. 13 in pass-blocking and 23rd in run-blocking.
Like Nelson, right tackle Braden Smith is a second-year stud. His 79.8 grade ranked seventh among all tackles (just two spots behind Castonzo) and 12th among all offensive linemen. His run-blocking grade of 86.4 was third among tackles and fifth among all linemen.
Center Ryan Kelly (73.0) and right guard Mark Glowinski (60.5) round out the group, with Kelly coming in as the No. 6 center. His 74.6 run-blocking grade was fourth at the position, and he was one of only seven full-time centers to allow one or fewer sacks. Glowinski played every offensive snap for the Colts in 2019, and his 64.9 run-blocking grade was 16th among guards.
The Colts' designated sixth man, Joe Haeg, earned a 71.9 overall grade with 39 snaps at "big" tight end, 33 at left guard and one a right tackle. The 72 snaps were far and away the fewest of his career, but he still managed the best grade of his four-year career as well.
All in all, seems pretty safe to say that the Colts, as a group, were about as solid as it gets up front in 2019.
"At the risk of ticking off some of the players that I use to play with, yeah this is about as good as it gets as when it comes to offensive lines," Castonzo told reporters when the season ended. "So it's fun playing with these guys."
GROUND AND POUND
During the offseason, the Colts set out to be a top-five rushing attack in 2019. They hovered around that area all season, occasionally cracking into the top five, but ultimately landed at seventh overall with an average of 133.1 yards per game — just 1.5 rushing yards per game fewer than the fifth-place Dallas Cowboys. According to PFF, though, the Colts' 85.1 run-blocking grade was second overall.
In total, they ran the ball 471 times for 2,130 yards (4.5 avg.) and 17 touchdowns. It was the first time the Colts reached 2,000 rushing yards in a season since 1994 (2,060). They finished with 10 games with at least 100 yards rushing, six with at least 150, and three with at least 200, which is the first time they achieved the latter since 1988.
Their rushing attack ranked fifth in the NFL in carries per game (29.4), was tied for fifth in run plays of 20-plus yards (14), tied for ninth in run plays of 40-plus yards (three), tied for 10th in rushing touchdowns and tied for 11th in yards per carry.
The Colts also boasted a 1,000-yard rusher, as starting running back Marlon Mack hit the mark for the first time in his career, finishing the season with 247 attempts for 1,091 yards (4.4 avg.) and eight touchdowns. He is the first Colts player to have a season with 1,000-plus rushing yards and eight or more touchdowns since Joseph Addai in 2007.
Second-year running back Jordan Wilkins followed up his solid rookie campaign with another big year. He carried the ball 51 times for 307 yards (6.0 avg.) and two touchdowns. Among all NFL running backs with at least 50 carries, his 81.7 rushing grade ranked sixth, and his yards-per-carry average was first. He was also tied for sixth with 3.59 average rushing yards after contact. As another three-down back, Jonathan Williams had a comparable season to Wilkins. He carried the ball 49 times for 235 yards (4.8 avg.) and a touchdown. He ranked tied for ninth in rushing grade (79.2), and his 4.14 average rushing yards after contact was third.
Quarterback Jacoby Brissett added 56 carries for 228 yards (4.1 avg.) and four rushing touchdowns while running back Nyheim Hines had 52 carries for 199 yards (3.8 avg.) and two touchdowns.
PROTECTING THE PASSER
The Colts didn't quite have the historic season in pass protection in 2019 that they did in 2018, but they were still one of the best teams in the NFL in that area.
PFF gave them a pass-blocking grade of 75.1, which ranked 11th. The Colts were tied for the ninth-fewest sacks allowed (32), their sack percnetgage (5.87) ranked tied for eighth and they had eight games with either one or zero sacks surrendered.
Nelson was credited with just 20 total quarterback pressures allowed — 18 hurries, two hits and zero sacks. He was one of just five qualifying NFL guards to not allow a sack and one of eight guards to allow 20 or fewer pressures. Among all offensive linemen, Nelson was one of 24 to allow 20 or fewer pressures and one of nine who didn't allow a sack.
Castonzo was another stalwart in pass pro, allowing 34 total pressures — 26 hurries, five hits and three sacks. He was one of just 19 tackles to allow 34 or fewer pressures, and one of 12 to allow three or fewer sacks.
DOING THE DIRTY WORK
Both the initial credit and blame of run and pass blocking always goes to the offensive line, but neither should be considered without the work of the unsung heroes, which are the skill position players who throw blocks for their teammates.
Even among offensive linemen, tight end Jack Doyle was the Colts' third-best pass-blocker (78.1), which ranked eighth among all NFL tight ends, and sixth-best run-blocker (68.2), which ranked 11th among tight ends. Tight end Mo Alie-Cox was the Colts' seventh-best pass-blocker (69.8), and was tied for 25th among tight ends.
Wide receiver Zach Pascal was their fourth-best pass-blocker (76.2), also ranking eighth among all NFL wide receivers, and third-best run-blocker (85.0), which ranked second. Fellow receiver Chester Rogers was the Colts' fifth-best pass-blocker (74.0), and ranked 11th among all receivers.
Running back Nyheim Hines was the Colts' fifth-best run-blocker (73.0), and was third among all NFL running backs who had at least 40 run-block reps. Running back Jonathan Williams was their sixth-best run-blocker (71.0), which was 12th among running backs who had at least 10 run-block reps.