In his 12 NFL seasons, Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning has been sacked just 215 times (only 10 times in 2009), or once every 31.4 dropbacks. Only once, in 2001, was Manning sacked more than 25 times. Manning has been sacked fewer than 20 times in seven seasons.
Almost as remarkable as the dearth of sacks is that the Colts have protected Manning, who greatly enhances his pass-blockers' effectiveness by getting rid of the ball so quickly, with a variety of line combinations through his dozen seasons.
That's particularly true at guard. Manning and the Colts have had plenty of stability at the two tackle spots (Tarik Glenn was the starter at left tackle for much of the quarterback's career and Ryan Diem has been the longtime right tackle) and at center with mainstay Jeff Saturday. But since Manning came into the league as the first selection in the 1998 draft, the Colts have had an amazing revolving door of starting interior blockers.
"There have been times," Saturday acknowledged, "when I've looked side to side just to see who was there. Obviously, given the [low] number of sacks, they've all done a great job. But we've used a lot of guys there
since I've been with the team."
During Manning's career, in fact, the Colts have used 20 different starting guards, and none has started more than 60 games. This season, six-year veteran Ryan Lilja has started every game at left guard. But Indianapolis has employed two players, second-year veteran Mike Pollak (seven starts) and rookie Kyle DeVan (nine starts), at right guard.
Many teams employ a similar philosophy on the offensive line. They invest heavily on their tackles and fill in around them with less-expensive guards. But few have used as many guards as Indianapolis president Bill Polian and offensive line coach Howard Mudd, and arguably no one has done it as well.
"Howard just makes it work," said former Indianapolis guard Jake Scott, one of only three men with more than 50 starts at the position since Manning came into the league. "You never hear him [complain] about having to switch out the guards so often. And judging by the [lack] of sacks they've allowed, they get smart, tough guys, who take a lot of pride in their work."
Steve McKinney owns the most regular-season starts by an Indianapolis guard (60) since 1998, followed by Lilja (59) and Scott (55). Rick DeMulling (39) is the only other player in that period with more than 35 starts at guard.