Lack of communication jeopardizing the protection of Matt Ryan


INDIANAPOLIS — For effect, we should spot a scene from “Cool Hand Luke” that still resonates.

What we have here is a communication failure.

This was the Captain’s message to Luke, one of his rebellious prisoners.

It also describes the status of the Indianapolis Colts’ pass protection.

Although the Colts managed to chase down the Kansas City Chiefs 20-17 on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium for their first win of the season, they did so by putting their quarterback at risk on far too many occasions.

Matt Ryan directed the 43rd winning practice of his 15-year career, but the Chiefs won him. They hit him 10 times in his 42 comebacks – honestly, that seems a conservative number – and sacked him five times.

Unacceptable, insisted Frank Reich.

“It’s something, as you know, that we’re very proud of,” he said on Monday. “That’s why it’s a bit disheartening.

“We need to bring this together collectively and find ways to be more consistent there.”

Too often, Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo threw blitzes and the Colts failed to adapt. The result: a defender with a clear path to Ryan.

“I felt like there were more free rushers yesterday than . . . I’ve seen in a long time against us,” Reich said. “We have to clean this up. I know the answer, we just have to do it.

“We need to communicate better. We need to coach better, we need to communicate better and we need to play better. It will always be this combination of things.

The Chiefs wasted no time testing the line of communication connecting Ryan to his offensive line and the rest of the pass protection components.

On the Colts’ first offensive play, cornerback Jaylen Watson slammed into the right side of Ryan’s protection. His free shot on Ryan forced an incomplete on running back Jonathan Taylor. On the third and fifth, safety Justin Reid crossed the A gap and forced another incompletion, which was delivered as Ryan was pulled to the turf.

“It’s miscommunication,” CBS analyst Tony Romo said. “It’s nothing more than upstream communication.”

This was only the beginning of the siege.

If that wasn’t the end Frank Clark blasting a screen pass to Michael Pittman Jr. with immediate pressure, it was cornerback L’Jarius Sneed passing from point A (the right side of the offensive line of Indy) to point B (Ryan) in the blink of an eye on the fourth and the first at the end of the first quarter. Ryan had little luck finding a receiver as Sneed hit him, forcing a fumble which Jonathan Taylor recovered.

On a third-and-6 from the Chiefs 22 in the third quarter, linebacker Nick Bolton again invaded the line of scrimmage to threaten Ryan’s inside protection. He stormed the A gap and pulled Ryan down for an 11-yard sack. That forced Chase McLaughlin to convert a field goal from 51 yards.

“It’s just not OK,” Romo said. “Nobody is blocking the A gap. You can’t allow someone to cross the A gap.

“It’s just communication.”

The breakdowns seem odd given that the main components of the protection roster are Ryan, a 37-year-old quarterback who started 235 games, and Ryan Kelly, the Colts’ three-time Pro Bowl center with 83 starts in seven seasons. . They were able to work together during the offseason, training camp and their brief playing time during the preseason.

Despite the revolving door at the position — Ryan is Reich’s fifth starter in as many seasons — Reich is giving his quarterback “carte blanche” to establish protection.

“Obviously you get a guy like Matt who has a lot of experience,” Reich said. “It’s not a problem for him to see it and understand it. But it still takes time to get out of it.

“Maybe in three games he’s had one or two he’d like to get back in that regard, but he’s been pretty good with it.”

Reich reiterated “there’s nothing else” regarding leaky protection, which was evidenced by the half-dozen free shots delivered by the Chiefs.

“There are a few unusual things going on here and there,” he said. “We’ll have them cleaned up.

“It’s not a particular person, a particular thing.”

Right guard Danny Pinter endured a few tough times in his first stint as a full-time starter. This includes back-to-back games on Sunday. First, tackle Chris Jones beat him for a pressure from Ryan. Then, Clark’s bull rush overwhelmed Pinter and resulted in an 11-yard sack.

Reich indicated that the Colts were not considering replacing Pinter.

“It was not discussed,” he said. “We always rotate the guys in training, the guys train in an all-around way.

“There has been no discussion about it at this stage.”

Whether it’s miscommunications or the Jacksonville stunts, it’s imperative the Colts clean up Ryan’s protection, as Reich said.

Ryan has been hit 28 times and sacked 12 times in three games. Only Washington’s Carson Wentz (15) and Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow (15) were sacked further.

And then there is this.

Ryan has been sacked five times in consecutive games for just the third time in 225 starts and the first time since Games 11 and 12 of 2019.

Colts ranked no worse than tie-9e in the fewest bags allowed over Reich’s four seasons. They were 2n/a in 2019 with Philip Rivers (19) and 1st in 18 with Andrew Luck (18).

Heading into this season, Reich’s protection program has only allowed five or more sacks three times. Now they’ve given up that many in each of the last two games.

Last time the Colts allowed five or more sacks in consecutive games: Weeks 4 and 5 of 2016.

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You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappel51.


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