INDIANAPOLIS – Before Chris Ballard got to the point where he thought it was time to turn over some of his defensive line, he was watching his 39-year-old QB get drilled in a massive December tilt.
Philip Rivers was trying to stand in the pocket against a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that was feasting on a Colts offensive line down their two starting tackles.
As the game moved along, a three-score Colts lead slowly deteriorated.
Rivers was sacked a season-high 5 times (Rivers was only sacked multiple times in a game on one other occasion in the final two months of the season) in that crushing loss to the Steelers. With Anthony Castonzo and Braden Smith sidelined, the Colts chance at entering Week 17 with the AFC South up to whether they won or lost was gone.
Up in the press box, Ballard shook his head at the job he had done in giving the Colts needed depth up front.
It’s difficult to find, but Ballard had a mission this past offseason to a correct an admitted mistake he made in 2020—not providing his coaching staff with enough offensive line depth.
On paper, the Colts are much better suited for that in 2021.
Let’s say the Colts have this starting offensive line for the majority of the ’21 season: LT-Eric Fisher, LG-Quenton Nelson, C-Ryan Kelly, RG-Mark Glowinski, RT-Braden Smith.
Behind those guys, the Colts have 6 different offensive linemen who have combined to start 115 games in the NFL. Three of them are free agent signings made by Ballard this past offseason. That’s experience the team didn’t have last season.
So, that was one part of the trench-plan that Ballard laid out this offseason (along with the Fisher replacement for Anthony Castonzo).
Ballard’s other thought was this: How can you disrupt the line of scrimmage better?
The answer had one eye looking towards the future, especially after DL-Denico Autry decided to join the Titans in free agency.
With Ballard’s first two draft picks, he went with defensive ends, doing something Jim Irsay says he hasn’t seen in 50 years.
How quickly the likes of Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo impact is another debate, but it was another sign of Ballard adhering to his core belief.
Depth on the O-line and looking for more disruption from the defensive line were two areas that frustrated Ballard last season.
And when that happens in the trenches, where Ballard believes a football team is built, you better believe it’s getting attention.