Indianapolis Colts: Protecting Andrew Luck

In April 2012, the Colts drafted Andrew Luck and, in doing so, found another elite level franchise quarterback.  By January 2013, it became clear that the Colts needed to find a way to protect that asset.  In the 2012 season, the Colts offensive line gave up 112 quarterback hits, 21 more than any other offensive line.  Desperate to upgrade that number, the Colts signed Gosder Cherilus to a 5 year, $35 million contract and drafted 2 offensive linemen in the 2013 NFL Draft.

In addition to their offseason personnel moves, the Colts have made some adjustments in 2013 to help protect Andrew Luck.

Pictures after the jump.

Specifically, the Colts have gone to an unbalanced, max protect look in a lot of passing downs.  Against the Dolphins, the Colts used this formation multiple times in the first quarter:

The player circled in both pictures is actually Gosder Cherilus, the player the Colts paid so much money to play right tackle.  In these formations, he is essentially serving as an additional guard on the left side.  This provides Andrew Luck with additional, important protection on his blind side.  Additionally, you can see in the above pictures that the Colts are very well positioned to block the Dolphins defensive line should they choose to rush 4.  The Colts have double team options across the board depending on what the defensive line does on top of having pass protection in the backfield from Ahmad Bradshaw and, in the second picture, Stanley Havili.

On top of mixing up the offensive line to help protection in passing downs, the Colts have called on their tight ends, receivers, and running backs to help pass protect by chipping defenders.  Reggie Wayne provides a good example of this in the first quarter of the Dolphins game.

This is a more traditional offensive line formation than we saw previously.  Gosder Cherilus is back on the right side of the line and Cameron Wake is lined up wide looking to get to the quarterback.  It appears that Cherilus may have some help from Bradshaw if he needs it, but the strength of the Colts formation is all to the opposite side.

This screenshot comes from shortly after the snap.  You will notice that Andrew Luck is just completing a play action fake to Bradshaw.  You should also notice that almost the entire Colts offensive line is engaged with their counterparts, setting a nice pocket for Andrew Luck.  Now, look back towards Cameron Wake.  At this point in the play, he is just dis-engaging from Reggie Wayne.  Wayne provided a nice chip block to slow Wake down a bit.  While the rest of his teammates are engaged in their blocks, Gosder Cherilus is simply waiting for Cameron Wake to come to him.  Wayne’s chip block allowed Cherilus to get in good position and easily handle one of the premiere pass rushers in the league.

The Colts unbalanced formations, chip blocks, and quick passes have created a huge difference in their pass protection in 2013.  Despite facing Cameron Wake and the 49ers defense through 3 weeks, the Colts are only 8th in QB hits allowed.  While they are still below average in this area, the improvement so far is dramatic and the long term impact on the franchise is incalculable.

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