The Importance of Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson, and Ryan Kelly

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Sep 23, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Indianapolis Colts center Ryan Kelly (78) in action against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

One of the big stories in the NFL has been the emergence of the Indianapolis Colts offensive line this year.  There are only 2 hold-overs from the starting group of last year, Ryan Kelly and Anthony Castonzo.  Indianapolis acquired Mark Glowinski off waivers from Seattle in December 2017.  Then they drafted Quenton Nelson with the 6th pick of the 2018 draft.  Then, 31 picks later, Colts chose Braden Smith in the second round.  This is the widely known basis of this years offensive line for the Colts.  

A lot of press has been about how good the left side of that line has been this year.  I am going to share with you how good those three players– Castonzo, Nelson, and Kelly,–have truly been when they are on the field together. Their success did not start right away. Castonzo suffered a hamstring injury in training camp and then suffered a setback right before the season started.  He was not able to get on the field until week 6 against the Jets.  Since then he has been a staple of health starting and finishing every game.

Ryan Kelly started the season at Center and played until the end of the game vs. the Titans week 11. Where he suffered a knee injury.  He missed the next 3 games trying to get back from this injury, and returned in time to play the Cowboys week 15.  Week 16 vs. the Giants he suffered a neck stinger and was out before the first quarter was over.

Quenton Nelson, on the other hand, has played and started every game thus far for the Indianapolis Colts.  His play has been spotlighted by many analysts, including Brian Baldinger, with his Baldy’s Breakdowns.  And the Colts publicity department sent a tweet highlighting a pulling block of Nelson, that showed him pancaking Jaguars safety Barry Church. 

Barry Church, meet Quenton Nelson. pic.twitter.com/LwsAX1UQ99— Derek Tyson (@DerekJTyson) November 11, 2018

In all, the three starting left side offensive linemen have played only six full games together this year.  How good are they when they play together? Let’s find out! Week 6 vs. the Jets was the first game they played together.  Then continued through week 11.  With Kelly’s knee and neck injuries, they were only in one other game together after that.  Cowboys, week 15.  Let’s look at the numbers.

Week  #     Team          RB Carries       Yards      YPC      Sacks allowed
Week  6:    Jets              19                      113           5.9         0

Week  7:   Bills             30                     219           7.3          0

Week  8:   Raiders       38                     224           5.9         0

Week  8:   Raiders       38                     224           5.9         0

Week 10:   Jaguars       16                      85            5.3          0

Week 11:   Titans          25                    105            4.2          0

Week 15:  Cowboys     33                     158           4.8          0

Totals:       6 Games      161 carries   904 yards   5.6 YPC   0 sacks

It looks to me as though those three starters when on the field together, perform at an elite level.   They seem to not only have the individual qualities that got each of them picked in the first round by the Colts in their respective draft classes, but also have formed a bond that allows them to perform on an even higher level.  Each player is able to not only trust the person beside them to fulfill his assignment’s, but also relay information such as stunts and other scheme plays the defense is doing to them. 

They open monster holes in the running game for the running back’s to sprint into.  They are also able to get blocks on the second level linebackers.  Knowing when they are able to pass off a block to the guy beside them, then climb up and extend that running lane at the second level. In pass protection, each man is trusted in his zone.  Anthony Castonzo can drive his man out wide on speed rushes, knowing that Kelly and Nelson have their man pinned at the line of scrimmage.  They allow Andrew Luck to climb the pocket without fear and extend a play, giving him and the receivers ample time to finish their routes and make completions down the field. 

Health has been the biggest burden on Kelly. When on the field this year, he has performed up to his first-round status.  However, a knee injury, and now the neck injury, has sidelined him for four games in the second half of the season  If Kelly can return, and all three linemen can stay healthy, there is absolutely no reason to believe they can not continue their elite blocking well into the future.  Many eyes are on Kelly right now as the Colts prepare to visit the Titans in the most important game of the year for this team.  Winner get a playoff birth, while the other’s season comes to an end. 

With those stats I listed above, it is quite apparent how important he is to this offensive line, and to the offense in general.  A stout offensive line not only helps the Colts run game, their passing game, but also the defense.  The more success the offense has, the more rest the defense gets between the times they are on the field.  Which allows them to stay fresh and play fast.  A staple in the young defense.  Ryan Kelly, Quenton Nelson, and Anthony Castonzo’s on the field play, or absence, plays a big part in the entire Colts success as a team.

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