Mike Wells, ESPN Staff Writer 39d

Carson Wentz won't have a chance if Colts' O-line doesn't protect him better

INDIANAPOLIS – The days of having their starting quarterback scrambling around to avoid pass-rushers when he’s not getting hit or sacked are supposed to be a distant memory for the Indianapolis Colts.

But the way Carson Wentz was getting hit over and over again in his Colts' debut Sunday brought back memories of the days when Andrew Luck took a similar pounding from opposing defenses.

That’s not how many envisioned Wentz’s debut with the Colts going against the Seahawks, but the quarterback was sacked three times and hit 10 more times in their 28-16 loss. That number likely would have been higher had Wentz not used his skills to try to make plays with his feet.

“Unfortunately, we saw how tough he was,” Colts center Ryan Kelly said. “Doesn’t feel too good as an offensive line. Not a standard we hold ourselves to.”

The standard the Colts set on the offensive line since 2018 has been keeping the quarterback clean, so they have time to make plays in the pocket. It worked with Luck (18 sacks) in 2018 and with Philip Rivers (19 sacks) last season. The most Rivers was hit in a game last season was just five times.

That's how it’s supposed to work for Wentz too. More like it has to work for him.

One of the quickest ways of putting Wentz, whom the Colts acquired in the offseason, back in the same position he was when he was sacked 50 times in just 12 games last season in Philadelphia is by not protecting him.

"One of the things is to keep the quarterback safe," Kelly said. "We gave up way too many hits."

Having continuity shouldn’t be an issue for the Colts, since they returned four of their five starters on the offensive line from last season. But it was obvious that the lack of practice time together in training camp and the preseason hurt them against the Seahawks. Guard Quenton Nelson (foot) and Kelly (elbow) missed part of training camp due to injuries. Left tackle Eric Fisher is getting closer to returning after tearing his Achilles last season in the playoffs while with the Kansas City Chiefs.

The blame for the offensive line issues Sunday couldn’t be pinpointed directly at one player.  It could be spread around across the entire offensive line with the exception of Nelson.

"I’m not ready to just dump this thing and say the offensive line played bad," coach Frank Reich said. "So, forgive me for that. I need to see the film. I understand what it looked like; I also understand there’s a lot that goes into it. I’m not saying that they can’t get better, I think we all can."

Right tackle Braden Smith put how much the line struggled into perspective by looking at one play, which basically ended the possibility of the Colts coming back.

Smith, whom the Colts gave a four-year, $72 million contract extension to during training camp, was embarrassed when he was pushed to the ground by Seahawks defensive end Darrell Taylor on a sack on fourth-and-2 in the red zone in the fourth quarter.

"I know a handful of plays I want back that I could have gotten us in the right protection and helped us out," Wentz said. "So, you can never take it right at face value. We have to go learn from it. That’s on all of us. As a team, we just didn’t play complementary football. When the defense had stops, three-and-outs, the turnovers -- offensively we didn’t capitalize, and we have to do better at that, but that’s a good football team, and we are going to learn from this one.”

The challenge of protecting Wentz doesn't get any easier for the Colts' offensive line in Week 2 because it has to try to contain Aaron Donald and the Los Angeles Rams, who had 53 sacks as a team last season.

"Like [owner Jim] Irsay said, it’s a marathon, not a sprint," Kelly said. "Obviously, we have some work to do."

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