There’s a lot to dissect with the Indianapolis Colts this week as the team transitions to quarterback Sam Ehlinger starting for the first time. One of the storylines around the organization is whether or not the Colts are making this move with only the future in mind.
After all, moving on from a former MVP quarterback after just seven games to start a former sixth-rounder with no previous experience screams of “giving up” on the season. That’s especially true when considering just a week ago, that former MVP signal caller won a game by throwing 58 times for 389 yards and 3 touchdowns, including the game-winner in the final minute.
It would be one thing if it was Week 16, but it’s only Week 8, and the Colts sit at 3-3-1.
But Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich insisted when speaking to the media on October 26 that the team is not giving up on the season despite planning to start Ehlinger for the rest of 2022.
“I can tell you this for sure, there is nobody waving the white flag,” Reich said. “It’s not in my DNA, it’s not in our player’s DNA. I would never do that in a million years.”
Reich Selling Ehlinger as ‘What’s Best for the Team’
In order to persuade anybody that the Colts aren’t “waving the white flag,” Reich has to be convincing that Ehlinger is the best option for the team right now. That’s a hard thing to do considering two weeks ago, Ehlinger was even behind Nick Foles on the depth chart.
But Reich did his best to sell Ehlinger as what the Colts need to break out of their offensive funk.
“We’re always going to do what we think is in the best interest of the team,” Reich said. “We just felt like, offensively, we were struggling. We said, ‘Why are we struggling? What are the problems?’ The problems are we are turning the ball over too much.
“It’s not on one person… It’s not all Matt, but he is the quarterback. Getting sacked too much, turning it over too much and not scoring enough points. That’s on all of us, but the decisions that are made, are made around that thinking.”
The biggest advantage Ehlinger presents over Ryan is his mobility. Pro Football Focus has the Colts ranked 27th in pass blocking this season. Behind that offensive line, Ryan took 24 sacks in the first seven games.
Ehlinger should be able to get away from more rushers than Ryan did. But is the sixth-round pick from a year ago ready for his first significant NFL action?
Reich says he is and that the team is ready to compete with him behind center.
“Anybody who knows Sam knows that he is made for moments like this,” Reich said. “Is he going to go in and be the offensive player of the week? I’m not saying that. Will he have some growing pains? Absolutely he will have some growing pains.
“We’re trying to win a championship and that starts with winning the AFC South championship and we’re still in position to do that.”
Colts Locker Room Responds to Quarterback Change
The initial public reaction from the Colts locker room was a positive one after the quarterback switch. Defensive tackle Grover Stewart even went as far as to say that starting Ehlinger was “a good move” for the Colts.
The reaction has been a little more mixed from offensive players such as Colts center Ryan Kelly and running back Nyheim Hines.
“I mean, the guy’s been in the league for 15 years,” Kelly said of Matt Ryan according to Colts insider Joel A. Erickson of The Indianapolis Star. “All 11 of us haven’t played good enough to have a better record of 3-3-1, so we’ll roll with it as it comes.”
The Athletic’s Zak Keefer reported Hines chose his words carefully when talking in front of the media about the team’s quarterback change.
“You’re not upset, but you’re like ‘dang,’” Hines said. “It’s unfortunate. The circumstances are really unfortunate. I love Matt to death. We love Sam, but it sucks how things have transpired for us to get to this place.”
Kelly tried to deflect a question about whether the quarterback change is a sign the organization has lost confidence in the current Colts roster being a playoff contender this season.
Ehlinger will be the eighth different quarterback Kelly will snap the ball to in Indianapolis. Kelly joined the Colts in 2016.
“I don’t know, man, I don’t make the decisions,” Kelly said. “Whoever’s back there is back there, right? I snap the football to them, do my job, pass protect, better open up some lanes in the running game. That’s all I’ve got.”