In the offseason, several teams made big moves at quarterback in the hope of transforming underperforming offenses into dominating units. So far, most of the most significant moves have not resulted in the resurrection teams were looking to find.
One of the biggest moves was the Indianapolis Colts, who managed to talk Matt Ryan away from a successful 14-year career in Atlanta. The honeymoon didn’t last, and on Monday, Colts head coach Frank Reich sent Ryan to the bench in favor of Sam Ehlinger, a sixth-round pick in 2021 from the University of Texas.
On Monday, Reich confirmed that Ryan had suffered a grade-2 shoulder separation in Sunday’s loss but also dropped a major bomb about the change at quarterback. The coach announced that Ehlinger would be QB1 for the remainder of the season, a move he said would have happened even if Ryan had not been injured.
“Extremely difficult decision given the respect and admiration that we have for Matt Ryan, given what he’s brought here,” Reich said Monday when announcing Ehlinger as the starter. “He is a pro’s pro. This guy is special.”
“We all know at the quarterback position that our poor production on offense is not on one person. It’s not on Matt Ryan. But we also know, as head coach and quarterback, it doesn’t matter,” he continued. “I’m judged on wins and losses. Quarterbacks are judged on points and turnovers. We understand that’s how it is in this league.”
Ehlinger was signed by the Colts in 2021 as a sixth-round pick in the NFL Draft. Earlier this year, he was promoted to QB2 over Nick Foles after impressing coaches during the preseason and in practice during the regular season. Though he has yet to throw a pass in the NFL, Reich and the Colts organization hope the young and mobile QB will provide a spark for the 3-3-1 team that is boasting one of the league’s least-performing offenses.
Before joining the NFL, Ehlinger spent four years at the University of Texas where he totaled 11,436 yards, 94 touchdowns, and only 27 interceptions for an overall QB rating of 145.0. He also added 1,903 yards rushing in his time with the Longhorns while scoring 33 touchdowns.
Ehlinger saw limited playing time in the preseason and returned excellent numbers. He completed 27-of-29 passes for 289 yards and four touchdowns without throwing an interception but entered the season as the third-stringer behind veterans Foles and Ryan.
“I’ve been particularly impressed with Sam in practice since the season started, the look that he’s given on the scout team, the quality of his throws, the way he’s commanding himself out there,” Reich said. “Just the total package. I just think it’s the best decision for our team moving forward.”
Ehlinger’s mobility is one of the key reasons for the decision to give him an opportunity. According to Reich, Ryan was promised a solid running game and excellent protection to maximize the quarterback’s ability to take advantage of play-action schemes, a deal he says has not been held up.
“Matt, we did not hold up our end of the bargain,” Reich said he told Ryan. “You came here and we promised you a top NFL rushing game and we promised you great protection. And we haven’t as an offense delivered on that.”
The Colts have given up 24 sacks on Ryan this year, the third-worst number in the NFL. The offense has had only one play over 40 yards, a 44-yard completion from Ryan to receiver Alec Pierce in Week 4 against the Tennessee Titans.
The run game is similarly dead in the water. Averaging only 3.5 yards per carry, the Colts are the third-worst in the league in total yards. The unit has only two touchdowns, the fewest in the league. Overall, the offense has scored only 11 touchdowns, tied with the Los Angeles Rams for third-worst.
The decision to start Ehlinger the rest of the way may indicate that the team isn’t seeing what they wanted from Ryan, or it could be more of a reflection of the team’s lack of ability to protect a pocket passer.
For better or worse, Ehlinger will get his first shot at being a starting quarterback in the NFL on Sunday when the Colts host the Washington Commanders. At 3-3-1, the 2022 season isn’t over yet for the Colts, but the pressure will be on Ehlinger to overcome the shortcomings of this team in order to win in the AFC.