NDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Anthony Castonzo has watched the faces come and go along Indianapolis’ offensive line all season.
He sees no reason to doubt the replacements now.
With three of the team’s projected starters on injured reserve, Castonzo is convinced this changing cast can come up with a good enough performance Sunday to send the Colts to the AFC Championship game.
“Obviously, we would rather have the continuity,” Indy’s starting left tackle said Friday. “But the guys who have filled in all season have done a really good job. I don’t think there’s a guy on this team that we don’t trust to play.”
The theory has been tested repeatedly all season.
Indy has plugged 10 linemen into 11 starting combinations and has used the same lineup in back-to-back weeks just two times since Week 4 — Oct. 19 and 26 and Nov. 30 and Dec. 7. With coach Chuck Pagano announcing Friday that everybody was “ready to go,” it appears it will happen again in Sunday’s divisional-round game at Denver.
Somehow, the Colts (12-5) still managed to win the AFC South title, a wild-card game while limiting opponents to just 27 sacks on Andrew Luck, the lowest of Luck’s career.
This weekend will be a different challenge.
The AFC West champs are heading into the playoffs with a week of rest, the No. 3 overall defense and an intimidating group of pass rushers such as defensive end DeMarcus Ware and outside linebacker Von Miller, who combined for 24 of the Broncos’ 41 sacks and could cause havoc all day for the Colts’ makeshift line.
“It’s going to be an all-day job because if you lose to any one of these guys, they’re going to get the quarterback,” said Castonzo, the only lineman to start each of the first 17 games.
A year ago he and right tackle Gosder Cherilus were the pillars on a line that went into the playoffs after using six different starting lineups over the final six weeks of the regular season. Indy followed a wild-card round him over Kansas City with a 43-22 loss at New England in the divisional round.
Cherilus won’t be around Sunday. He was placed on injured reserve last week with groin, hip and shoulder injuries.
Also out will be right guard Hugh Thornton, who went on injured reserve this week with a shoulder injury, and Donald Thomas, who was expected to start at left guard, sustained a season-ending torn right quad in training camp. Thomas’ absence gave second-round draft pick Jack Mewhort a chance to play, and he’s played well in 14 starts — 13 at left guard and one at right tackle.
The Colts also have also tried three centers — A.Q. Shipley for the first four games, Jonotthan Harrison for the next 10 before going with Khaled Holmes for the last three.
Now, against a pass rush that could have a big advantage because of crowd noise, Pagano and Luck are hoping the Colts have worked out the kinks.
“I wish we were talking and it was the seventh or eighth week in a row. We’ll take two, as much as they’ve been through,” Pagano said. “That lineup last week did a great job. You look at the numbers and the protection, the yards on the ground, the air, all the stuff, so it’s nice to have a group in back-to-back weeks.”
Notes: Pagano hasn’t said how much action running back Trent Richardson will see this week. He practiced Thursday with the Colts’ coverage units after logging one offensive play in the win over Cincinnati. … When receiver Reggie Wayne was asked Friday if it was strange to see Peyton Manning on the other sideline, Wayne responded: “Not no more. It’s probably more strange seeing all these Papa John’s commercials.”