Insider: Film watched, Colts Frank Reich says pass blocking 'not up to our standards'

Joel A. Erickson
Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts offensive foundation cracked in Sunday’s season-opening loss.

One day after Frank Reich said he needed to see the tape before passing judgment on an offensive line that gave up three sacks and 10 hits of starting quarterback Carson Wentz, the Indianapolis head coach had to acknowledge how much his offensive line struggled against a Seahawks defensive line without an established star.

Ultimately, the Colts came up short, and Wentz took some "vicious shots" as a result.

“Overall, the protection aspect was probably not up to our standards,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “There was a little bit more to it than just the offensive line play, but we need to be better. We need to be better as coaches, we need to be better as players in that area. We have very high standards there.”

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Indianapolis Colts quarterback Carson Wentz (2) is wrapped up by Seattle Seahawks defensive end Carlos Dunlap (8) on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2021, during the regular season opener at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Reich established those standards, turning around a franchise that had built a reputation for getting its quarterback killed. In Reich’s first three seasons in Indianapolis, the Colts finished first, tied for ninth and tied for second in the league in sacks allowed. Working in tandem with general manager Chris Ballard, Reich built his team’s protection success around detailed preparation for an opponent’s blitz packages, along with heavy investment in the offensive line.

For the most part, the players themselves faltered Sunday.

“We do a really extensive blitz game plan, as far as what we could do on third down,” Colts center Ryan Kelly said. “I think we had a pretty good idea of what they were doing, and everything that we planned for, we saw.”

Indianapolis knew it had one weak link going into the game.

With Eric Fisher still on his way back from a torn Achilles suffered in the AFC Championship Game, the Colts started journeyman Julién Davenport at left tackle, and Davenport gave up two sacks.

Indianapolis lined up tight ends Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox next to Davenport only a couple of times.

“The best way to help a left tackle, any tackle, is to put a tight end next to him. You can also help him with a running back,” Reich said. “We did do that a few times, but then, there were some times we were going to help him with the running back that they brought pressure, and it pulled the back off. Then, the other general rule — this is not giving up trade secrets, this is every team in the NFL — when you’re going quicker-rhythm stuff, you don’t help tackles on the three and five-step drop stuff.”

After he left the stadium Sunday night, Reich remembers talking to Ballard and telling the general manager he probably should have done more to help Davenport. On one of the sacks Davenport allowed, he was supposed to get chip help, but the Seahawks ran a pressure that “fooled” the Colts, leaving Davenport one-on-one.

Ultimately, though, after watching the tape, Reich felt like he gave Davenport enough help, even though he didn’t often line up a tight end on that side.

“When I watched the tape, for the number of times, I thought it was OK, if I’m being honest,” Reich said. “I’m normally pretty critical of myself.”

The Colts head coach also believes that Wentz did a good job getting the ball out of his hands.

According to the NFL’s Next Gen stats, Wentz averaged 2.92 seconds time to throw in the season opener, the fifth-highest mark in the league. Known for holding onto the ball too long at times in Philadelphia, Wentz’s time to throw was often a flashpoint for criticism as he led the league in sacks taken a year ago.

Reich did not think that was the issue in the season opener. The Colts offensive architect admitted that when he left the field Sunday night, there were two plays he found himself thinking Wentz could have slid in the pocket and gotten the ball down the field.

When he went back and watched the film, Reich saw why Wentz made the decisions he made on those plays.

“I’d have to see that over a bigger sample size. Some of it’s going to be because he can move around a little bit and extend plays, but my guess is that at the end of the year, after a 17-game regular season, it might be a little more than it’s been in the past because of the nature of Carson as a quarterback,” Reich said. “But my guess is he’ll also create more big plays by getting out and extending plays than we’ve had in the past.”

Wentz got out of a couple of sacks on Sunday and bought enough time to get an incompletion away instead of taking the sack, plays that likely pushed his time to throw a little higher.

But after all of the film work and all of the analysis, there was no big, underlying secret that caused the Colts’ protection problems on Sunday.

Indianapolis simply failed to win its matchups the way it almost always has in the past.

“One of the biggest things is to keep the quarterback safe,” Kelly said. “We gave up too many hits. That’s not our standard of play, so this is a good realization of where we are and where we have to go.”

And the offensive line is going to have to get there quickly.