Colts' revamped offensive line stars in win over Texans

Back in April, the Indianapolis Colts owned the No. 6 overall pick.

Skilled position players were available. The sexy prospect was available for selecting.

Minutes later, the Colts submitted their card -- for Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson. Casual fans yawned. Diehards roared. Nearly nine months later, Colts GM Chris Ballard looks like a genius.

Nelson, an All-Pro selection as a rookie, has keyed a collective turnaround up front, propelling the Colts from one of the league's worst outfits to one of its best with a bright future. Need proof? Check Saturday's 21-7 playoff win over the Texans.

Marlon Mack powered a rushing effort that left two marks in Indianapolis' record book. First, Mack set the team's single-game playoff record for rushing yards with 148 on 24 carries (to go with a touchdown). Then, the rest of the Colts joined Mack in a collective push to reach 200 yards on the ground, another team playoff record.

Ahead of them were five linemen -- Anthony Castonzo, Nelson, Ryan Kelly, Mark Glowinski, fellow rookie Braden Smith and even a cameo or two from Joe Haeg -- clearing paths for Mack to work. Instead of Houston establishing the run game and building off it, it was Indianapolis doing so, and doing it well.

"We came into this game saying we need to dominate up front," Colts coach Frank Reich said. "We need to run the football and we need to stop the run. To roll off 200 yards on that defense is incredible. That's just a real credit to the offensive line and our running backs and tight ends. I can't say enough about that."

Twitter was dotted with videos of the group blocking cohesively on zone stretches and power plays. Nelson got his own quick-fire ESPN compilation of excellent blocks executed against Houston (including a dominant handling of Jadeveon Clowney that some untrained eyes incorrectly saw as holding).

Sure, Nelson committed a false start immediately after his highlight reel rolled, but who cares? This Colts team is playing as well as it has since its turnaround began, which coincided with the return of Castonzo and the shuffling of its line to its current form. And quarterback Andrew Luck -- a leading MVP candidate in a year that didn't include the rise of Patrick Mahomes -- has his men up front to thank for their playoff win.

Luck completed 19 of 32 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns (one interception), fitting passes into tight windows and benefitting from some excellent grabs made by his receivers. All the while, he had plenty of time to throw. Houston's vaunted edge-rushing duo of Clowney and J.J. Watt -- the third-best duo in the NFL, per Next Gen Stats -- caused few issues outside of a couple tipped passes. As a team, Houston logged just eight QB pressures. Remarkably (and a true indicator of how good Indianapolis' line truly is), their pressure rate of 25 percent was higher than the Colts' surrendered season average of 22.2 percent.

This is a huge reason why Indianapolis is in the postseason and just won a playoff game. Its balanced, versatile offense is tough to stop because it has a moving steel wall in front of it. And when it runs the ball well, good luck slowing it down.

"Just a belief in our offensive line," Reich said of what propelled the Colts to a road playoff win. "There was just a real strong conviction this week for us as a team that this is what it's going to take to make some noise in the playoffs.

"We know we have an elite quarterback and we can throw it for 400 and win when we have to. But what we talked about is the margin for error in playoff football when you try to do it that way is very thin, it's very thin margin of error. But when you can win like this, when you can win running the football and stopping it, that's just everything."

It sure is everything. Just ask how that went for the Texans.

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