Matt Ryan benched: What do the Colts have in new starting QB Sam Ehlinger?

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The Colts are going from a quarterback who’s won NFL MVP and thrown for over 62,000 yards in his NFL career to a 24-year-old, former sixth-round pick with exactly zero regular-season attempts on his resume.

And it feels like the correct decision.

Ryan suffered a shoulder injury in the Week 7 loss to the Titans, yet Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich was quoted earlier this week saying Ehlinger would be the starter “for the remainder of the season.” Strong statement. Insight to injury for Ryan.

What are the Colts getting in Ehlinger, and how will the style of the quarterback play be different for Indianapolis?

Let’s start with mobility, the most drastic difference between Ehlinger and Ryan. There’ll be plenty more movement at quarterback in Colt’s offense from now on, that’s for sure.

Of Ehlinger’s 34 dropbacks in the 2022 preseason, 29.4% of them ended with him moving outside the pocket. Pretty high figure. Before being replaced by Ehlinger this season, Ryan moved outside the pocket on just 10.4% of his dropbacks. Stark contrast.

Here’s a sprinkle of what Ehlinger can do as an improvisational passer. Now, remember, these are all plays from the preseason, but it’s all we have on Ehlinger thus far in his pro career.

This right here against the Lions is not an easy throw. Rolling left, squaring the shoulders, and throwing accurately down the football field.

That’s simply not an element of playing the position Ryan was providing the offense through the first month and a half of the season.

And here, against the Bills, this touchdown materialized because of how crafty Ehlinger was evading multiple rushers en route to finding space to release the football.

That looks like what we’re seeing from most of the top quarterbacks in the modern NFL. Extend the play. Make something out of nothing.

To prove it wasn’t a fluke, Ehlinger had another ad-lib touchdown throw against Buffalo in August. Pretty similar to the first one.

Yes, Jelani Woods was open for a while, yet still, a positive play created by Ehlinger when it initially looked lost.

Ehlinger only ran 4.84 at the Texas Pro Day in 2021, yet he’s not timid about taking off while mashing the turbo button, as he demonstrated here, on a long touchdown run against Tampa Bay.

Ehlinger preseason TD run vs. TB.mp4 by Chris Trapasso on Vimeo
With the good typically comes some bad, especially for a young, inexperienced quarterback. Another drastic difference between Ryan and Ehlinger is the sack rate. It feels like Ryan’s been sacked a billion times thus far this season. His sack rate is 7.4%. In the preseason, albeit on a much smaller sample size.

And it feels like his success as a runner at Texas has instilled a belief in Ehlinger that he can routinely escape and run away from NFL defenders. But he’s simply not that caliber of athlete. So for as much as his mobility is a positive, fresh feature of Colt’s offense, he can’t go overboard. Some of Ehlinger’s natural desire to scramble needs to be harnessed. It’s essentially impossible for an offense to function if the quarterback’s sack rate is north of 10%. And at this stage of his career, Ehlinger can’t be relied upon to make ultra-quick decisions to mitigate the pass rush either.

We shouldn’t expect Ehlinger to light the NFL on fire as Colt’s starter. He has yet to attempt a pass in the regular season in the NFL. He has an average arm, and despite his love of scrambling, he’s an average-at-best athlete by today’s quarterback standards. And Indianapolis’ pass-catching contingent is far from dynamic.

However, he does possess a natural, playmaking flair by way of functional mobility, and he’s courageous throwing the ball on the run while improvising or simply down the football field when the pocket is clean.

While there’s plenty of uncertainty with the inexperienced Ehlinger, one thing is for sure — he’ll absolutely give the Colt’s offense a new feel.

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