INDIANAPOLIS – It was easily the biggest mistake of an offseason that had so many wins for Chris Ballard.
And it’s weird, because the lack of addressing that need comes at a spot where Ballard is a staunch believer in having more than enough depth and competition.
During the 2020 offseason, the Colts elected not to seriously spend resources into their offensive line depth (mostly at tackle), despite losing top 2019 reserves Joe Haeg and Josh Andrews to free agency.
Even with great offensive line health for the vast majority of the 2020 season, the Colts have been bit by this problem.
And as they enter the most important stretch of the 2020 season, it’s quite possible they could be without Anthony Castonzo for a large chunk of it.
With the Colts still trying to figure out exactly how many weeks Castonzo (sprained MCL) will miss in the final five games, preparations began early this week for life without their most indispensable player.
Any answer in how to replace Castonzo is not easy.
What is known is how important he is to this team’s success.
The Colts are 2-11 (.154 win percentage) in career games Castonzo has missed, scoring an average of just 19 points per game in those contests. Considering that they are 77-65 (.542 win percentage) with Castonzo in the lineup, and averaging 23 points per game, his loss is massive.
For a league defined by parity and routine one-possession games, an offensive lineman making a 4-point difference is quite a loss. His absence being the difference between a season finishing above .500 in a season or having 2-3 wins is also eye-popping.
But that is what Anthony Castonzo has meant to this franchise.
How should they try and replace Castonzo?
-Continue to go with Le’Raven Clark: The Colts have already felt the loss of Castonzo this year when Clark has been thrown into the fire, dropping two huge games when looking at the current playoff race. When Castonzo missed a Week 5 matchup with the Browns, the Colts offense and Philip Rivers had arguably their worst performances of the season. And then this past Sunday after Castonzo left the game following two straight long touchdown drives, Clark entered and the Colts had 7 straight empty drives, with the longest one moving just 15 yards down the field. But Frank Reich said Clark had a ‘solid game’ and this staff continues to be bullish on the 5th-year tackle being a viable option. If they once again decide to stick with Clark, more consistent help to the left side is a must.
-Try Braden Smith or Quenton Nelson at LT: This is something that Frank Reich and Chris Ballard discussed on Monday morning. While trying Smith or Nelson (who is banged up) at left tackle would be a likely upgrade over Clark, two things cannot be ignored: Such a move would raise questions at now two positions on the offensive line (and that’s assuming Ryan Kelly is back this week) and Smith and Nelson did not even play left tackle in college. Of the umpteenth practices the Colts have had since both entered the NFL in 2018, I can’t recall ever seeing either of them drill at left tackle. Again, this idea sounds intriguing, but when examining it deeper, it’s also probably the riskiest. Moving Smith would still mean Clark or Chaz Green into the starting up. Moving Nelson would mean a guy who missed practice last week due to back and ankle injuries might not even get a full week of work to transition to a position he hasn’t played in a game in years.
-Give Chad Green a shot: Back when the Colts had Braden Smith (thumb) out against the Packers, it was Green replacing a struggling Clark mid-game over at right tackle. Clark’s last NFL start came in 2018 (7 career starts, 3 at left tackle). His last start at left tackle came with Dallas in Week 10 of the 2017 season. At some point, have the Colts seen enough from Clark and would be willing to give Green a chance, especially with a full week of practice? Even if Clark, 28, gets the nod at left tackle, the Colts will still need to provide him with consistent help.
What Would Bowen Do: As Nick Sirianni pointed out on Tuesday, he can count on one hand how many times the Colts help Anthony Castonzo on a given play each week. His loss in game planning and on Sunday is gargantuan. What would I do this Sunday against the Texans? I’d probably start Green. First, no option is ideal. At all. Personally, I’ve seen enough of Clark. So, give Green a shot with a full week of practice. The issue with moving Smith or Nelson is what I painted out above. Neither has experience there at a high-level of football and you are also potentially worsening two positions. It’s no guarantee that you would solve the left tackle issue just by moving them there. Playing left tackle is a totally different animal than what Nelson and Smith are currently asked to do. Give Green a shot, provide him some help and pray.