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Colts take step back as pass-protection problems return

Interim head coach Jeff Saturday of the Indianapolis Colts leaves the field after losing to the Los Angeles Chargers 20-3 at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 26, 2022, in Indianapolis. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The sacks are back for the Indianapolis Colts offense and, not surprisingly, so are the losses.

Now, with two games remaining, interim coach Jeff Saturday is back to searching for solutions.

Just when it seemed the offensive line was starting to gel after allowing 14 sacks in Matt Ryan’s four starts, Nick Foles replaced Ryan as the starter Monday night and went down seven times in another ugly prime-time loss, 20-3 to the Los Angeles Chargers.

“They did a nice job covering, they were mixing up coverages, they were doing a good job with taking away a bunch of reads and taking away leverage,” Foles said. “And early on, you know, they made some good plays.”

Foles, the super sub who led the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl 52 title and was the game’s MVP, hadn’t endured anything like it in his career.

During his 11-year career, Foles only had one game taking more than five sacks, that coming courtesy of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in December 2012, when the rookie went down six times with the Eagles.

Entering Monday, Foles had been sacked an average of 1.8 times per game in 70 games.

But after throwing three interceptions in his first start with the Colts (4-10-1) and his first start in exactly one year, Foles has added a new chapter to Indy’s pass-protecting troubles.

Ryan was sacked 38 times, the sixth-highest single-season total of his 15-year career despite appearing in a career-low 12 games and getting benched twice. Even the more mobile Sam Ehlinger endured 11 sacks in his first two career starts, both losses, after replacing Ryan.

The combination has the NFL’s highest-paid offensive line having set a franchise record for the most sacks allowed in a season since sacks became an official stat in 1982.

Still, Saturday, a two-time All-Pro center with the Colts, knows it’s not all on the offensive line. After watching the film from Monday night’s loss, he blamed just two of the seven sacks on breakdowns in pass protection. The other five, he said, were a combination of other problems.

“I think the last one was pretty quick, but the other ones, a lot of them were coverage,” he said. “You see them holding the ball, looking down, pulling down, looking for his next progression. And again, as these guys are figuring each other out, how long you’re holding it, when the ball is coming out, where the routes are going to be and all of those things, it takes time.”

And having already been eliminated from the playoffs, time is something the Colts are running out of almost as quickly as their starting quarterbacks.


Coach’s challenges. Saturday challenged two calls in the first quarter and won both to earn a rare third challenge that he did not use. Since taking over in early November, he’s won four of the five times he’s thrown the red flag.


Turnovers. Indy plugged in Foles to take more shots down the field, but the change only resulted in more miscues. Two first-half interceptions cost Indy scoring chances in the first quarter and the third set up a Chargers field goal that made it a two-possession game.


TE Jelani Woods. The rookie’s rollercoaster season continued against Los Angeles with Foles going to him early and often. On a night the offense failed to score a touchdown for the fourth time this season, Woods was one of the few bright spots with three catches for 43 yards.


Foles. Indy thought he could give the team a late-season spark despite taking no snaps with the offensive starters from training camp until last Wednesday. As a result, the timing was off and Foles looked more like an aging 33-year-old quarterback.


Indy receiver Ashton Dulin entered the concussion protocol following a wicked hit from Pro Bowl safety Derwin James, who was ejected. Cornerback Isaiah Rodgers Jr. left early with a knee injury.


Zero. The Colts were 0 for 10 on third down conversions, marking it the second oh-fer they’ve had this season. They were 0 for 14 in an embarrassing loss when New England had nine sacks in what turned out to be former coach Frank Reich’s final game.


Sure, Saturday continues to preach the need to win. And nobody inside the Colts complex will acknowledge it’s time to tank, even with only two games left and the potential of a top-five draft pick and a new franchise quarterback looming. Fans, though, are making it clear that’s what they are thinking about.