Colts need Braden Smith back, as he’s secretly one of Indy’s most important players

The Indianapolis Colts need Braden Smith back in the lineup for the tense playoff push, as the right tackle is a key piece of the offense.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Indianapolis Colts
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Indianapolis Colts / Todd Rosenberg/GettyImages

With just two weeks remaining in the 2023 NFL regular season, the Indianapolis Colts are entering a must-win stretch. Currently 8-7 and in the middle of a tight AFC playoff race, the simplest path to the postseason starts with the Colts winning out. They’ll start that journey on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders before hosting the Houston Texans in Week 18 for the regular-season finale.

The good news for Indianapolis is that the team is getting healthy in time for these important games. The Colts welcomed Jonathan Taylor back into the lineup in Week 16 and it seems like Indy is close to getting even more reinforcements this week as well. Michael Pittman Jr. practiced throughout the week and so did right tackle Braden Smith, and both players are questionable for Sunday’s game. While the offense will greatly benefit from both players returning, especially Pittman, it has been clear that Braden Smith was missed.

Colts offense is better with Braden Smith

Smith, currently in his sixth season, has been a big part of the offensive line bouncing back this year. However, the right tackle has only played in eight of Indy’s 15 games this season. Whenever Smith is sidelined with an injury, rookie tackle Blake Freeland gets the start and the change is noticeable.

In the eight games Smith has played in, the Colts are 6-2. In the seven games without Smith, Indy is a sad 2-5. Obviously, Smith isn’t the main reason for the wins and losses, but he does contribute to the run blocking and pass protection. In the eight games he started, Indianapolis allowed 17 total sacks while rushing for 117 yards a game. In seven games without Smith, the Colts gave up 22 sacks and rushed for 108.9 yards a game.

Statistically, there’s a clear difference, and even watching the games, Smith’s absence is very noticeable— especially in pass protection. If Braden Smith is healthy and playing like he has all season, the Colts should be more productive down the stretch of the season and should be able to punch their ticket to the playoffs.