Indianapolis Colts: Tamba Hali

INDIANAPOLIS -- If the early struggles to protect quarterback Andrew Luck weren't problem enough, the injuries along the offensive line in recent weeks gave the Indianapolis Colts every excuse to fall apart up front.

Seven different starting lineups along the line, including five in the past five games, have forced coach Chuck Pagano to be creative in his tinkering with the line.

The Colts had only six healthy offensive linemen before they brought center Thomas Austin up from the practice squad the day before their game against the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend. Austin was released on Tuesday.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaAndrew Luck is, at last, enjoying a good deal of protection from his offensive line.
But despite all the mixing and matching of interchangeable players, the Colts are in the midst of their best offensive-line play of the season.

Luck has been just sacked twice in the past three games and the Colts have rushed for at least 135 yards in each of the past two games.

“I think the more adversity you face sometimes, it tends to bring you together,” Pagano said. “The players have found a way to put the pieces together week-in and week-out and it doesn’t really matter who’s up and who’s down and who’s available and who’s playing where. They all know they all have position flexibility and know what to do. Those guys all prepare as starters and they’ve done a great job. And they have played well the last couple weeks, especially protecting Andrew.”

The improved play comes after the Colts gave up 22 sacks through the first nine games. They’ve given up a total of nine since then, with five occurring against Tennessee on Dec. 1.

The only stability has been at tackle, where Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus have started every game on the left and right, respectively.

The interior three of the line – the weakest part of the group – is the one that has undergone the constant changes. Jeff Linkenbach replaced the struggling Mike McGlynn at right guard against Tennessee on Dec. 1. McGlynn was back starting at guard the following week because Linkenbach got injured. Then McGlynn had to start at center against Houston on Dec. 15 because Samson Satele went down with an injury.

Are you still with me?

Xavier Nixon, a tackle during his college career at Florida, started at left guard against the Chiefs last weekend. His pull-block helped open a hole for Donald Brown on his 51-yard touchdown run that featured some poor tackling by the Chiefs.

Castonzo, the protector on Luck’s back side, limited Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, who has 11 sacks this season, to only two tackles and no sacks in the game.

“There’s been so much change that you really have to get back to your fundamentals because you don’t know who is going to play next to you, so it comes down to everybody doing their own fundamentals properly,” Castonzo said. “It might be just the refocus on fundamentals that’s allowed us to play well.”

The Colts could be getting close to having a healthy line (minus Donald Thomas, who is out for the season). Thornton, Linkenbach and Joe Reitz could return to practice later this week.

“Chuck and [general manager] Ryan [Grigson] brought the right guys in here,” Cherilus said. “The new guys come in and they listen to the vets and when your number is called they show up and perform. They’ve been doing that. You want to finish the season with your starting lineup. But we’re talking about football, change is going to come, you’re going to have to make yourself available to be a part of it.”

Mathis moves up in Pro Bowl voting

December, 19, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis has moved up a spot in the Pro Bowl voting.

Mathis, who surpassed Dwight Freeney to be the team's all-time leader in career and single-season sacks last weekend, is second in voting for outside linebackers. Mathis has 279,080 votes. Kansas City's Tamba Hali is still the top vote-getter with 293,303 votes.

Mathis still leads the league in sacks with 16.5.

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (449,984) fell a spot to seventh in the voting for quarterbacks. Kicker Adam Vinatieri (53,379) fell two spots in the voting to 10th.

Denver's Peyton Manning is still sitting on top of the voting with 1,227,068 votes.

Fan voting, which counts for one-third of the ballot, ends Dec. 26. Coaches and players make up the remaining two-thirds of the voting. They vote Dec. 23-26.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis proved earlier this season that he doesn't need Dwight Freeney on the other side to be an effective pass-rusher.

Mathis leads the NFL in sacks with 15.5 and is a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year.

But Mathis is still not at the top of the Pro Bowl fan voting for outside linebackers. He trails Kansas City’s Tamba Hali (233,738 votes) and Baltimore’s Terrell Suggs (221,617) in the voting. Mathis has 217,191 votes.

I think Mathis should be higher than Hali and Suggs because they both only have nine sacks each. Mathis has also forced five fumbles this season.

Quarterback Andrew Luck and kicker Adam Vinatieri are the only other two Colts in the top 10 in voting at their position.

Luck is sixth amongst quarterbacks with 399,523 votes and the ageless Vinatieri is eighth amongst kickers with 41,848 votes.

To no surprise, Denver’s Peyton Manning leads the voting with 926,432 votes.

Fan voting, which ends Dec. 26, accounts for one-third of the ballot. Coaches and players also have votes that count a third. They vote Dec. 23-26.

Andrew Luck moves up in the MVP race

October, 23, 2013
As I mentioned in QB Watch on Wednesday morning, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck isn’t putting up eye-popping numbers this season. But the Colts are winning and that's all that matters. They are 5-2 and a victory over the undefeated Denver Broncos has moved Luck into Dan Graziano’s MVP Watch.

Luck is actually up near the top. He's ahead of New Orleans’ Drew Brees, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, San Diego’s Philip Rivers and Kansas City’s Tamba Hali. The only player standing in Luck’s way is Denver’s Peyton Manning.

Shocking, I know.

Depending on how many records Manning plans to break, Luck could end up passing his predecessor because he’ll be the reason the Colts are able to maintain things without receiver Reggie Wayne (knee) in the lineup the rest of the season.

Here’s a snippet of what Graziano said about Luck: “He throws for first downs. He runs for first downs. He’s sipping an Arnold Palmer with his feet propped on a desk in the middle of Manning’s shadow without a care in the world.”

Here’s Graziano’s top five:
  1. Manning
  2. Luck
  3. Brees
  4. Rivers
  5. Hali

Check out Graziano’s top-10 list with his comments here. Feel free to behind your own comments.