INDIANAPOLIS — With the Colts‘ offensive woes reaching worrisome proportions, the team decided on a dramatic shift at its most important position.
Indianapolis is promoting Sam Ehlinger to starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against the Washington Commanders, with veteran Matt Ryan sustaining a Grade 2 shoulder separation against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, coach Frank Reich said. Ryan won’t play or practice this week because of the injury, Reich said, but he emphatically stated that the move is intended to be for the remainder of the season.
“Extremely difficult decision given the respect and admiration that we have for Matt Ryan, given what he’s brought here,” Reich said Monday. “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. I’m judged on wins and losses. Quarterbacks are judged on points and turnovers. We understand that’s how it is in this league. Matt will be a pro.”
Ryan, 37, threw two interceptions in the Colts’ 19-10 loss at Tennessee, the first one returned for a touchdown by Andrew Adams. Ryan leads the NFL with nine interceptions through seven games. He also has fumbled 11 times, losing three.
Meanwhile, the Colts are 29th in scoring, averaging 16.1 points. Sunday’s game was the third contest this season in which the Colts scored 12 points or fewer.
Ehlinger, 24, was promoted to the No. 2 quarterback over Nick Foles two weeks ago. Now, the 2021 sixth-round pick will make the massive jump to No. 1.
“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 was a preseason sensation for Indianapolis but has played only 18 regular-season snaps in his career. He has never thrown a pass in the regular season. It’s thought that Ehlinger’s mobility might mitigate some of the confounding issues the Colts are experiencing with their offensive line, which continues to be pushed around by opponents, including Tennessee on Sunday. Ryan, a pure pocket passer, sustained 10 quarterback hits in that game.
“This is a point that needs to be made crystal clear, and I told this to Matt. I said, ‘Matt, we did not hold up our end of the bargain. 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. And that starts with me.’ That was basically my message to Matt,” Reich said.
“We thought the marriage of Matt Ryan and his history with our running game, he’s had 14 years of incredibly productive quarterback play with great play-action. So, we thought there was going to be a natural marriage there. Given our crazy quarterback scenarios over the last five years, it wasn’t a move of desperation. It was a well-thought-out [decision]. “
It would appear that Monday’s decision was influenced, at least in part, by owner Jim Irsay. Reich called it a “collective decision” but said he, Irsay and general manager Chris Ballard had an hourlong discussion late Sunday night about the situation.
“His vote is always going to carry [more weight],” Reich said. “He might lead the way in some certain ways, but it’s really owner, GM and head coach talking through a decision of this magnitude.”
The Colts acquired Ryan from the Atlanta Falcons in March for a third-round draft pick. Ryan, the 2016 MVP and an Offensive Player of the Year and Offensive Rookie of the Year winner, spent his first 14 seasons with the Falcons.
The Colts targeted Ryan after moving on from Carson Wentz after last season. The Colts have had a revolving door at quarterback since Andrew Luck retired before the 2019 season. On Sunday, Ehlinger will become the seventh quarterback to start a game for the Colts since Reich became the team’s coach in 2018.
The Colts are 3-3-1 this season, including 1-3-1 against AFC South opponents.