Why the Colts benched Matt Ryan and what’s next

Why the Colts benched Matt Ryan and what’s next

INDIANAPOLIS — In the back corner of the visitors’ locker room at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium on Sunday, long after most of its occupants had left, Matt Ryan gritted his teeth to complete the simplest task: putting on his shirt.

The Indianapolis Colts‘ the quarterback was in obvious pain and spent a lot of time after the team’s loss Tennessee Titans in the training room. He then slowly retreated to his locker where he struggled to raise his arm above his head.

The scene became even more so observed on Mondaywhen Colts coach Frank Reich announced that Ryan suffered a Grade 2 separated shoulder and that the Colts would move to backup quarterback Sam Ehlinger for the rest of the season. Reich said the move would have been made regardless of the injury.

Will this prove to be the last scene of Ryan’s career? A 15-year veteran with the seventh-most yards in NFL history sitting silently in a losing locker room with a sore shoulder?

That’s one of many questions raised by Monday’s surprising events, all of which will have far-reaching implications for the franchise.

“At some point as a head coach you have to make tough decisions,” Reich said. “You have to go through these things, and they’re not easy.”

Ehlinger has been turning heads within the Colts organization since arriving in the sixth round of the 2021 draft. He even went around Nick Foles on the depth chart two weeks ago, he moved from No. 3 quarterback to No. 2. But promoting him to starter is a much different proposition. Ehlinger never threw a pass in a regular season game.

What does all this mean for Ryan, Ehlinger and the Colts? Let’s dive in.

Are Matt Ryan’s days in Indianapolis over?

Barring an injury to Ehlinger, it’s hard to see Ryan coming back from this one — even after his shoulder heals.

The Colts offense was one of the worst units in the league, averaging 16.1 points. Ryan also leads the NFL with nine interceptions. It’s not all his fault; The Colts didn’t provide Ryan the protection he expected, as their once-powerful offensive line struggled. Similarly, the Colts rank 29th in yards per carry (3.5). The infrastructure around Ryan was non-existent.

But Ryan hasn’t been able to rise above that, and the offense’s performance is at an unsustainable level.

What went wrong?

Although the veteran offensive line struggles are liked Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly were surprising, the Colts also took a passive approach to filling key spots at left tackle and right guard. The result: disaster. The Colts have started different offensive line combinations in each of their last five games, continuing their search for a true five-man lineup.

They also tried to change their offensive approach, with more emphasis on quick throws rather than running. In the end, nothing worked with any consistency. A change at quarterback probably won’t be a magic solution, but the Colts are still out of cards to play.

Reich put it this way when breaking the news to Ryan, who was acquired from the Falcons for a third-round draft pick in March: “We didn’t hold up our end of the bargain.”

What is the situation with Ryan’s contract?

The Colts restructured Ryan’s contract after trading him. That moved some of his guaranteed money to the final year of his contract, 2023. That means the Colts are on the hook for $18 million in salary cap space if they part ways with Ryan after this season.

Ryan is set to earn $21.7 million in base salary in 2023 if he stays on the roster or is traded. He’s also due a $7.5 million bonus in March, giving the Colts something of a deadline to decide his future.

Why start Ehlinger over Foles?

There are several possible reasons.

First, the Colts have been intrigued by Ehlinger since his arrival, but have yet to learn about him in the context of the regular season. Ryan’s injury created an opportunity for the Colts to see more of him as the team tries to plan its future at the position. Ehlinger’s history at Texas suggests he is a player. He made 43 starts for the Longhorns and has the fourth-most wins by a quarterback in school history.

Meanwhile, Foles presents a similar problem to Ryan. Both are pocket tackles who lack mobility, and that added to the challenge of playing behind the Colts’ porous offensive line. A move to Ehlinger is hardly a sure thing, but it gives the Colts some potential to help their struggling line.

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Louis Riddick claims something is wrong with the Colts even after benching Matt Ryan.

Why make this move now?

The Colts’ 3-3-1 record puts them in playoff contention in a jumbled AFC. But they also know their current offensive production isn’t enough to keep them there. It took an outstanding defensive effort for the Colts to pick up their three wins. At some point, the offense will need to produce more for the Colts to remain viable.

Owner Jim Irsay also appears to have played a role in the decision. That could partly explain the timing. Reich went out of his way after Sunday’s game to establish Ryan as his starting quarterback. Less than 24 hours later, he made an eye after an hour-long conversation with Irsay and GM Chris Ballard.

Of that conversation with Irsay, Reich said, “He has a lot of wisdom, a lot of good advice.”

What impact could this have on the future of the Raj in India?

Assessing Reich’s ability to lead the charge is difficult at best, given the incredible realities he faces. Ehlinger will be the seventh different starting quarterback in Reich’s five seasons, a series of changes triggered by the retirement of Andrew Luck in 2019.

Still, the Colts relied on Reich’s offensive expertise to pull them through. But the Colts offense took a nosedive Carson Wentz under center at the end of last season. And this season produced the absolute worst offensive results of Reich’s tenure.

Factor in Irsay’s public statements that suggest he’s getting impatient, and you should anticipate some pointed questions coming up after the season.

What are the expectations for the offense of Ehlinger and the Colts in the rest of the season?

This might be the hardest to predict because Ehlinger has so few significant snaps.

But here’s what we do know: Ehlinger’s mobility is what sets him apart from Ryan and Foles. The Colts would be wise to take advantage of this by moving the pocket or running pass rushes that set him up to throw or run. Reich seems to embrace Ehlinger’s running ability.

“Sometimes in a game, one or two third-down conversions on a run can make the difference,” Reich said.

But Ehlinger will have to operate mostly from the pocket as defenses begin to factor in his mobility. He worked with passing guru Tom House and greatly increased his accuracy and arm strength, both of which were suspected coming out of college.

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