Colts Pro Bowler Reveals Self-Improvement Plan for 2023

Quenton Nelson

Getty Colts left guard Quenton Nelson looks around Lucas Oil Stadium during a 2022 preseason game.

Following the Indianapolis Colts’ last-minute loss to the Houston Texans on January 8, offensive guard Quenton Nelson took time to reflect on the team’s difficult 4-12-1 season.

Despite becoming a Pro Bowler for the fifth time in his five-year career, Nelson wasn’t pleased with the way he played in 2022.

“I gave up a decent amount (of pressure). I need to be better in 1-on-1 protection,” Nelson told The Athletic’s Zak Keefer.

Statistics show that Nelson did, in fact, struggle in pass protection. In 2022, Nelson allowed a career-high five sacks — an uncharacteristic number since he gave up just four sacks in his first four seasons, per Pro Football Focus.

Nelson already has an idea of how he will be able to get better.

“Everything’s fixable,” Nelson said to Keefer. “I plan to have my best year next year. It starts with the offseason. I truly believe I can do that.”

During his end-of-season press conference on January 10, Colts general manager Chris Ballard said he expects more from the entire offensive line, including Nelson.

“Our best (offensive line) players have to play to their capability and the young players have to play to their capability that we thought,” Ballard told the media. “I do think we have some good young players and I think we have some players in their prime that can play better.”

Difficulty in Finding Continuity

Nelson was a part of an offensive line unit that was unable to establish consistent protection all season long.

While center Ryan Kelly, right tackle Braden Smith and Nelson were constants within the starting lineup in 2022, the Colts’ weakest links were at left tackle and right guard.

That proved itself during the early portion of the season. Left tackle Matt Pryor and right guard Danny Pinter started Week 1 but the line was shuffled numerous times later, with Pryor moving to guard and left tackle Dennis Kelly filling in.

Rookie left tackle Bernhard Raimann and right guard Will Fries eventually settled in by Week 9 and remained starters for the rest of the year.

While the offensive line was able to be more cohesive by midseason, the unit still had rough patches. It allowed a season-high nine sacks during the team’s Week 9 loss to the New England Patriots.

From a broader perspective, the offensive line conceded 60 sacks in 2022 — the second-highest in franchise history (the record, 62, was set in 1997). Those 60 sacks also ranked 31st in the NFL.

In his postseason presser, Ballard reinforced the notion that he didn’t do enough to set up the offensive line for success.

“I thought with the three really good players we had coming back in Braden, Ryan Kelly and Quenton that we would absorb those other positions and they would come up to speed right away,” Ballard said. “It just didn’t occur that way, and that’s a mistake.”

Raimann’s Progression As Rookie

With Raimann, Nelson, Kelly, Fries and Smith starting from Weeks 10 to 18, the Colts were better in pass protection. Per writer JJ Stankevitz, the Colts were given a 74.8 PFF pass block grade during that span. Compare that to a 54.1 grade from Weeks 1 to 9.

Raimann assuming full-time left tackle duties helped boost that score. He did allow seven sacks over the course of the season, but finished third among rookie tackles with a 73.3 PFF blocking grade.

Ballard acknowledged that rookie growing pains are normal, but he was satisfied with Raimann’s strong finish to the season.

“He’s got to get a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger,” Ballard said in his January 10 presser. “But we thought he performed at a winning level the last seven, eight weeks of the season.”

Even though Raimann and the offensive line improved late in the year, adding more depth to the unit could be near the top of Ballard’s wish list this offseason.

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