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 2020 season.
WHAT WENT RIGHT:
» Colts head coach Frank Reich last offseason declared on several occasions that by the end of the 2019 season, he wanted to have a top-five rushing attack. By the end of the year, Indy was just 1.5 rushing yards per game short of achieving that goal, ranking seventh. The Colts would end up having one of their better rushing performances in recent team memory, hitting the 2,000-yard rushing mark as a team for the first time since 1994,o while their 4.52 yards-per-carry average ranked fifth in franchise history. In the process, top running back Marlon Mack earned his first-career 1,000-yard rushing performance (despite missing some action with a broken hand), while second-year backs Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins took considerable steps forward in their development. With the entire offensive line returning, as well as Mack, Hines and Wilkins, many were already projecting another strong outing from the Colts' run game in 2020, but now that they took star Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor in the second round of this year's NFL Draft, "run the damn ball" should once again be a prominent theme for the Indy offense.
» Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski, Braden Smith. For all 16 games in 2019, that was the starting offensive line for the Colts. After an extremely solid performance together for about the last half of the 2018 season, those five returned in 2019 and put in another strong effort, ending the year as one of the top all-around offensive lines in football. In fact, over the past two seasons, the Colts rank ninth in the league in rushing average (120.3 yards per game), and have allowed the third-fewest sacks (50). In 2019, Castonzo had perhaps the best season of his career at left tackle, and Pro Football Focus graded him as the ninth-best offensive lineman in football. Quenton Nelson continued his historic pace at left guard, as he earned First-Team All-Pro honors for the second consecutive year to begin his career, the first NFL offensive lineman to accomplish that feat in 72 years. At center, Ryan Kelly earned his first-career Pro Bowl selection, setting him up for perennial all-star status for years to come. Mark Glowinski ranked as PFF's 10th best run blocker at right guard. And Braden Smith blossomed into one of the best run-blocking right tackles in the NFL, and ranked as PFF's seventh-best tackle overall. The good news? All five are returning once again for the Colts in 2020.
ITEMS TO BUILD UPON:
» The passing game, as a whole, was way too inconsistent for the Colts in 2019. While there were some notable performances early on — including 300-yard outings Weeks 3 and 7 in wins against the Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans — the air attack fizzled down the stretch, one of several contributing factors to the team's 2-7 finish after it started out red-hot at 5-2. The Colts ranked 30th in the league in passing yards per game (194.3) and yards per completion (6.5), as well as 25th in net yards per attempt (5.7). The Colts addressed this area this offseason, however, signing free agent quarterback Philip Rivers. In his first 16 seasons with the San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, Rivers, an eight-time Pro Bowler, has established himself as one of the best passers in league history, ranking in the top 10 in passing attempts (seventh), completions (sixth), completion percentage (ninth), passing yards (sixth), passing touchdowns (sixth), passer rating (10th), first down completions (fifth – 2,913), completions of 25 yards or more (fifth – 455) and 300-yard passing games (fourth – 70). Additionally, his 123 career regular season victories as a starter rank ninth in league history.
» Inconsistency in the passing game, as well as some injury issues at wide receiver, led to an overall lack of explosive plays for the Colts' offense in 2019. Indianapolis was middle-of-the-road when it came to explosive plays via the run; 11 percent of their 470 rushing attempts went for 10-plus yards, ranking 15th in the NFL. But the Colts' really struggled in this area through the air, as just seven percent of their 544 pass attempts went for 15 or more yards, ranking 28th. Three factors should help improve these figures for the Indy offense in 2020, however. In the run game, Taylor's addition is expected to provide a boost considering he was perhaps the most explosive running back in college football the last three years. General availability should help in the pass game, as wide receivers T.Y. Hilton (who missed a career-high six games) and Parris Campbell (who missed nine games in his rookie season) are back to full health after injury-plagued 2019 seasons. And, finally, Rivers throwing the ball at QB should help; he ranked fifth and 14th the last two seasons, respectively, in pass plays of 15 yards or more. Even by increasing the Colts' passing yards-per-attempt average up in the 7.3 to 7.5 range would be a significant improvement over 2019.