At 0-2, Indianapolis Colts need Carson Wentz to protect himself from himself

The Indianapolis Colts need quarterback Carson Wentz (2) to put his health ahead of extending plays, so he is available to make plays when they need him to. Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

INDIANAPOLIS – Quarterback Carson Wentz uttered the words Indianapolis Colts fans are all too familiar with: “I have to learn how to protect myself.”

Of course Wentz said it Wednesday after watching the team’s walk-through earlier in the day because he’s been “throwing the kitchen sink” at trying to get his two sprained ankles to the point where he won't miss an extended period.

Wentz suffered the injuries in Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The second injury -- his right ankle -- caused him to miss the Colts' final two series.

Yes, the Colts' offensive line has struggled through the first two weeks of the season. Yes, Wentz has been sacked six times and hit an additional 21. But not all the blame can be put on offensive lineman Quenton Nelson and Co. up front.

Wentz hasn’t helped his body – or the Colts – with how long he holds the ball.

Since the start of the 2020 season, Wentz has taken an average time of 2.91 seconds before attempting a pass, that’s the fifth-highest amongst quarterbacks with at least 250 pass attempts, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

It gets worse.

The quarterback has been pressured 36% of the time, which is the second-highest rate, and he’s been hit on 28% of his pass attempts, which is third highest.

“Yeah, I mean sometimes we mess with the clock, but it really depends on the call,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “Sometimes we’ve got stuff that’s in our quick-rhythm plan where bam, it’s out in 2.5 seconds. We’ve got other stuff where it’s more seven-step drop, where it’s going to be closer to three (seconds). It just depends. Then there are going to be shot plays where, ‘Guys, we need an extra count here.’”

None of this should be surprising when it comes to Wentz because it’s been an ongoing struggle since entering the league as the No. 2 overall pick in 2016. Now it’s a matter of the Colts and their starting quarterback getting this issue resolved if they expect him to stay on the field when he does return.

“It’s always a fine line, and I’ll probably be answering that question probably my whole career,” Wentz said. “Just trying to find that delicate balance of being aggressive, extending plays and knowing when to just say 'die and let the play die.' Whether it’s good or bad, I’m always analyzing where I could be better and protect myself so at the end of the day I can be available every Sunday.”

This is like "Andrew Luck Part II" for the Colts.

Luck, who was the Colts quarterback from 2012-18, often felt he could extend a play with his feet because there was no throw he couldn’t make, and he could shake off just about any hit he took. Owner Jim Irsay once said Luck had to change the way he played because he was no longer a “22-year-old kid at Stanford who could play tight end or quarterback.” Injuries started taking a toll on Luck's body early in the 2015 season and carried over until he retired in 2019.

Wentz doesn’t know when he’ll get to the point where he can answer how he’ll protect himself better from unnecessary hits.

“I don’t think anybody can ever fully answer that question because as competitors you never want to worry about an injury,” he said. “You never want to worry about ‘If I do this.’ You don’t want to second guess yourself out there, but at the same time, you want to be smart. You want to be smart, you want to be available. You want to be out there with your guys, so it’s a constant analysis every game.”

In the meantime, Wentz is spending around-the-clock time attempting to get his ankles healed enough to play Sunday. He's no longer wearing a boot to help support his right ankle, which he said is worse than his left ankle.

Wentz, who walked with a slight limp, didn't practice Wednesday, and there's a chance he may not practice at all this week. Second-year quarterback Jacob Eason will start if Wentz doesn't play against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

“Generally speaking, I have a general rule as far as when a guy has to practice to play," Reich said. "It’s not absolutely etched in stone. We kind of do it case-by-case. Generally speaking, that rule is you’ve got to practice Friday, but we have made exceptions to that rule in the past. We occasionally make exceptions to that rule, (but) not very often.”