Offensive Line's Strong Performance Leads to Big Plays
INDIANAPOLIS – Charlie Johnson is quick to admit he is not particularly "fleet of foot." After all, the Colts' starting left tackle is listed at 6'4" and 305 pounds.
But when he is playing in a game, Johnson said there are few things as fun for offensive linemen as sprinting downfield and making a block that leads to a big play or a touchdown.
"Once you get going in a game, you've got the juices flowing," Johnson said. "You make your block at the line of scrimmage, then you get excited and take of running downfield, trying to get your guy to the end zone."
Despite the size of the Colts' starting offensive line – which averages more than 300 pounds per player – Johnson said he and his fellow linemen are getting used to moving around on the field.
Quarterback Peyton Manning said the Colts define a big play as a play that eclipses 12 yards on a rush or 20 yards on a pass. And to get those gains, the Colts need time and protection from their offensive line.
The results say the line has been doing just that. Through three games, the Colts are the only team in the NFL with three receivers who have recorded receptions of 50 yards. And the team's two running backs, Joseph Addai and Donald Brown, each have broken runs of 12 yards or more in all three games.
"They sure do make drives easier," Manning said.
While many people think of an offensive linemen's job as holding off the pass rush while the quarterback stands in the pocket, Johnson said their jobs are not finished once Manning releases the ball.
"You've seen a couple of our guys getting downfield and making blocks that running backs and receivers usually make," he said. "It is a total team effort."
Johnson, who started 16 games last season and was part of a line that allowed only 14 sacks, said the offensive line is accountable for keeping Manning clean and allowing the offense to go out and make the big plays.
"We take pride in it," he said. "We know for a fact that if we block well and keep Peyton on his feet, he can make the defense pay. It is vital to our success, and Peyton is really good at what he does."
Johnson's pride stems from the team's past success. Over the last decade, the Colts have ranked in the top 10 in fewest sacks allowed every year and have led or tied the league best for fewest allowed five times.
This year, they are on pace for much of the same. The Colts have surrendered only two sacks through three games, or one every 49 attempts.
"It is also a credit to the receivers getting open in time, the running backs picking up blitzes and the offense clicking as a whole," Johnson said.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said he has been impressed with Johnson, whom he tabbed the team's starting left tackle in training camp.
"Charlie has been doing well in both the run and the pass," the Colts coach said. "He's been doing a good job for us."
In addition to Johnson, Caldwell mentioned how well rookie center/guard Kyle DeVan has been playing in practice, which led to some playing time for the first-year player against Arizona last Sunday.
"We think he's earned it," Caldwell said. "We were looking for an opportunity to get him in to play against some very talented guys. He's been practicing well and he's been performing well. We decided to put him in and give him an opportunity to play, so we created a rotation."
Manning said the offensive line, including Johnson and DeVan, continues to impress, particularly their ability to contribute to the big plays.
"The offensive line did a nice job in terms of opening up some holes and some creases for (the running backs) to get in," Manning said of their performance against Arizona. "They mixed it up pretty well. I think our coaching staff has done a great job of getting them ready."
The Colts quarterback also said the line has been doing a good job of helping the running backs break long runs, something they did against Arizona but have struggled with in years past.
"The players have accepted the challenge because we weren't as productive as we would have liked to have been in that area," Manning said. "We just have to continue to keep working at it and continue to get better."
The Colts on Thursday released the second injury report of the week, with the following players listed as did not participate in practice: LB-Gary Brackett (knee), DEs-Keyunta Dawson (foot) and Dwight Freeney (quadriceps), WR-Anthony Gonzalez (knee), DBs-Kelvin Hayden (hamstring), Tim Jennings (not injury related-rested) and Bob Sanders (knee), RB-Chad Simpson (abdomen), OT-Tony Ugoh (not injury related-rested) and K-Adam Vinatieri (not injury related-rested).