INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts have not fared well without Anthony Castonzo.
In the 12 games without the left tackle since he was drafted in the first round by the legendary Bill Polian in 2011, the Colts are 2-10. Those are not encouraging numbers for Sunday’s showdown at Cleveland.
Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich announced Friday that Castonzo will miss the game against the Browns (3-1) after suffering a rib injury in last week’s win against the Chicago Bears.
That means the Colts (3-1) must prepare for a defense led by 2017 No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett with backup Le’Raven Clark anchoring the left side of the offensive line.
“AC is a unique player,” Reich said. “We think he is a great player. So a lot of times in (pass) protection — sometimes you don’t have to help him as much. The thing is with Myles Garrett and what they do defensively, they move him around. So I’m sure he’ll switch sides. That’s nothing new for him. They’ll want to test out Le’Raven and that kind of stuff, but we have our plans on how we’ll handle those things.
“We go into every week with a protection plan no matter who we’re playing and no matter who is playing for us. It’s a comprehensive plan. We build into that plan adjustments that we can make in game. That gets a lot of work — that protection game plan. In one respect, it’s the same procedure that we always do (this week). In another respect, we know we have a new starting left tackle. They’ll try to test that out, and we’ll do the best we can do. We’re confident in our play, and we’re confident in Le’Raven.”
Despite his lack of mobility, Indianapolis quarterback Philip Rivers has only been sacked three times through the season’s first four weeks.
Cleveland was always going to present a challenge in protecting the 38-year-old, and now that task is more difficult. Garrett is an early Defensive Player of the Year candidate with five sacks, two tackles for loss and six quarterback hits, and the Browns are tied for eighth in the league with 11 sacks as a team.
Though Garrett does move around often, he primarily has lined up against the right tackle this season – meaning Braden Smith has been preparing for the challenge. But, as Reich noted, Cleveland is almost certain to find ways to stress Clark as well.
The Colts will counter in a variety of ways, from keeping the tight end home at the line of scrimmage to adding a sixth offensive lineman more often, running the ball more effectively and getting the ball out of the quarterback’s hand with short, quick throws.
“You pull on one part of the spider web, it affects everything else in the web,” Reich said of the balance between protecting the passer and remaining aggressive. “You want to keep a guy in to help with protection? It comes at the cost of not getting a fifth man out in the pattern. That’s the decision coaching staffs are making every week, especially when you play a team that has somebody like Myles Garrett or they have a rusher like him.
“That’s the advantage. When a guy requires that much attention, it’s pulling from something else. That’s always a fine line, so the way we approach it is we try to stay balanced. We’re going to do a little bit of everything.”
That includes placing some trust in Clark.
General manager Chris Ballard said in August he believed the reserve offensive lineman enjoyed the best training camp of his career this summer. Reich echoed those sentiments Friday.
Castonzo had made 33 consecutive starts including playoff games, and Indianapolis used the same starting five offensive linemen for 19 straight regular-season games during that stretch.
Clark has made 39 appearances with 12 starts after being drafted in the third round out of Texas Tech in 2016, but he was inactive for all 16 games last year.
“I really think he is going to come in and play well,” Reich said. “He is a very athletic guy, smart guy, tough guy. What I appreciate about Le’Raven (is) even during this stretch where all our guys have stayed healthy, he stays locked in, and he’s always getting himself mentally and physically ready. I have a lot of confidence in Le’Raven.”
In addition to Castonzo, all-pro linebacker Darius Leonard (groin) also was ruled out for Sunday’s game.
Linebackers Bobby Okereke (thumb) and E.J. Speed (elbow) were full participants in Friday’s practice, as was cornerback T.J. Carrie (hamstring). All three are expected to play against the Browns.
Linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. (ankle) was a limited participant and was listed as questionable.
“Obviously, if he can go, we’d love to have him out there,” Reich said. “He’s a big part of our defensive success that we’ve been having – great leadership, great player. The times that Darius hasn’t played, A-Walk has come up huge. I mean, huge.
“He’s had huge games in Darius’ absence. So we’re hopeful that this thing heals and responds well to today’s limited work, and we’ll make that decision tomorrow.”
Cornerback Greedy Williams (shoulder), linebacker Tae Davis (elbow) and defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (abdomen) were ruled out for the Browns. Safety Karl Joseph (hamstring) and defensive end Adrian Clayborn (hip) were listed as questionable.