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27 Mar 2012

Word of Muth: Scouting the Colts

by Ben Muth

Last week, in the comments section, I made a comment about Jeff Saturday being old and broken down. People rushed to Saturday’s defense and it made me realize that the last time I had seen him play, it was against the Jets in the 2010 playoffs. While I didn’t remember thinking he played great, he certainly didn’t look broken down, as I put it. So this week I decided to do get another look at the multi-time Pro Bowler and his 2011 Colts teammates. I reviewed their Week 17 game against the Jaguars.

The Colts are an interesting line to watch. They didn’t play great against Jacksonville, and I imagine that they probably played like this all year. If this game was any indication, they were a bad unit. That being said, I don’t think the individual players are that bad. The problem is that all of them do just enough not to get beat... well, except for one notable exception which I'll get to in a minute. No one is winning and creating room, so the end result is just a big mass of humanity. I think four of the five could be acceptable starters, but when they’re all together, none of them can do enough individually to make the line stellar. It would be like having a rotation full of Jon Garlands.

They also received no help from their tight ends. It didn’t matter who the Colts had in there -- they all got it handed to them by Jacksonville’s defensive ends. Dallas Clark’s lack of blocking skill is widely known, but Brody Eldridge isn’t much better either. That can go a long way towards making a line look worse than it is, but this isn’t a column about tight ends, so let’s get to the big'uns.

Interior

Since he inspired the column, I’ll start with Saturday. He had great footwork in the running game. It was clinic-worthy tape. He takes short, quick, and powerful steps all the way through a double team and into the second level. I was surprised by how quick he still gets off the ball, because he’s so efficient with his feet it doesn’t look like he’s moving that fast. However, when you watch him compared to everyone else, it’s clear that he’s a step ahead. This footwork is the main reason Saturday is still good in combination blocks, whether he stays on the nose tackle or works up to the linebackers. And honestly, that’s 85 percent of what a center does in the running game.

One negative thing I did notice is that Saturday tends to duck his head when he sees someone running at him with a head of steam. Rather than dip his hips and deliver a blow, he kinds of braces and accepts it. One time it hurt him was during the two-minute drill at the end of the first half. Jeremy Mincey came inside on a stunt, Saturday went to head butt him, but the defender slipped him and sacked Dan Orlovsky. I think Saturday was nervous that he may not be able to hold up against bull rushes like he used to, so he tried to blunt Mincey with his head rather than his hands. It’s something that a lot of undersized guys do.

Still, Saturday is far from broken down, and while I think he will be a downgrade from Scott Wells in Green Bay, he would have been an upgrade over J.D. Walton in Denver.

On Saturday’s right side is Ryan Diem, who retired this offseason. I thought he had the best game of anyone on the line. He was adequate as a run blocker, and looked smooth in pass protection. What I especially liked about his pass protection was how little he moved. Like Saturday in the running game, Diem was very efficient with his foot work in the passing game. He kept a nice wide base that allowed him to change direction quickly. He also was able to sit down when he had to against a bull rush. I’m not sure if he was motivated by the fact that he knew it could be his last game, or if he played that well all season, but I thought it was a nice performance to go out on.

Opposite Diem is Mike Pollak. I saw Pollak play a lot in college and was a big fan of the pick when Indianapolis snagged him in the second round of the 2008 draft. For whatever reason, his skills have never quite clicked at the next level. Like I said in the intro: he isn’t awful, but he just doesn’t do quite enough to leave you impressed. He doesn’t look like a great athlete and seems to labor to change direction. This problem did get exposed at the second level against Jacksonville. Also, he plays a little too far out over his toes, which leaves him off-balance at times. Still, he has good hands, and perhaps the change of scenery in Carolina (where he signed as a free agent) will jumpstart his career.

Tackles

Anthony Castonzo was the Colts first-round pick last year, and their left tackle by the end of the season. I thought he played pretty well. He could certainly be more physical in the running game, but I thought his pass protection was good, and at the end of the day that's the most important attribute at left tackle. His pass set doesn’t look particularly natural, and he’s a bit of a stomper, but he changes directions well and stays active. I'd like to see him develop a better punch as well, but it wasn’t terrible. I think the Colts have finally found an actual replacement for Tarik Glenn.

The last member of the Colts line is right tackle Jeff Linkenbach. Linkenbach had a rough final week of the season. I mentioned earlier how efficient Saturday and Diem were. Linkenbach was the exact opposite. He was all over the place, and seemed to lunge at every head fake and jab step a defender made. Linkenbach is still pretty young, and was probably thrown into the fire a little too quick this year. He does use his hands pretty well to keep distance during a pass rush, but his feet are so twitchy that it doesn’t end up helping him that much. He seems like a decent natural athlete (his feet weren’t moving slow, just too much), so he could improve, but he has a long way to go.

That does it for this week. Starting next week I want to add something at the end of each column. Maybe I could answer one or two questions every week, or draw up a blitz of the week. (I want to stay away from drawing up running plays, since that’s the bread and butter of the regular season column.) Maybe I'll add a funny quote from a former coach and explain what it was supposed to teach us. I’m open to suggestions. Leave your thoughts in the comments and don’t forget to follow me on Twitter.

Posted by: Ben Muth on 27 Mar 2012

19 comments, Last at 29 Mar 2012, 10:18am by jedmarshall

Comments

1
by Joseph :: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 11:59am

Ben,

If you draw up a blitz, I suggest you draw up a blitz PICKUP. In other words, choose a play where there was a seldom-seen blitz/stunt, and how the O-line was able to pick it up. [In other words, not just the MLB-through-the-A-gap style blitz pickups.] This would be awesome. It also has the potential to stay through the regular season.

2
by bravehoptoad :: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 12:22pm

I vote for the funny quote from a former coach.

11
by IAmJoe :: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 10:33pm

Seconded. Make it a variety bag, if you like. There's plenty of offseason, do a couple of each.

I'd like to throw a vote at the Detroit Lions for a team to check on for next week. Mostly because it's my team, and I want someone who really knows their OL play to take a look at that line. I'm pretty sure the line is, at-best, league average, or thereabouts, but in a division with guys like Clay Matthews, Jared Allen, and Julius Peppers, I sure am tired of seeing Jeff Backus get absolutely victimized. It seems to me the Lions OL is a bunch of unremarkable or replacement level guys, and they are equal to the sum of their parts. I also think that a lack of size and power on that OL is partly to blame for the difficulties in the running game, which would be awesomely handy to help sit on leads that Calvin Johnson hauls down in triple coverage.

3
by KyleW :: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 12:43pm

I'd second the idea of drawing up a blitz pick-up.

To expand on it further I'd like to see an explanation of the different ways teams pass protect. I get the idea of different teams having different styles of run blocking but do they all pass block in the same way?

4
by nat :: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 12:53pm

Nice article. I do wonder....

Saturday: a step ahead
Diem: best game of anyone
Pollak: unimpressive, but not awful
Castonzo: played pretty well
Linkenbach: rough week, twitchy

Other than Linkenbach, that doesn't sound like a "bad unit". Unless we're suffering from grade inflation here.

Was the "bad unit" assessment due solely to Linkenbach getting beat, due to the QB and RBs making bad plays, bad protection calls, or some other factors? Or are we to read "a step ahead" "best game" and "played pretty well" as faint praise that damns?

6
by Ben Muth :: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 1:22pm

Probably a little bit of grade inflation, but like I mentioned in the opening the biggest issue is that everyone does just enough to not got beat a lot of the time. In pass pro Diem was solid, and so was Costanzo. But the other guys gave up a lot of leakage. Not enough leakage where individually it would be that bad, but if three guys are doing it, it becomes a issue. A line full of average players will look worse than average because there won't be enough spots where the o-line truly dominates a match up, and what you end up with is a big mush in the middle of the play. The whole would be less then the sum of it parts.

19
by jedmarshall :: Thu, 03/29/2012 - 10:18am

Really Saturday was the only consistant component to the Colts line in recent years. Diem moved back inside from RT after being brutally awful there. Costanzo is young and promising. Linkenbach is simply a good backup that is pressed. Colts had some O-line injuries.

Also just as Peyton Manning can make a mediocre OL look good, Painter and Orvlosky have the ability to make an average OL look horrible.

5
by Podge (not verified) :: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 12:54pm

How about a scouting report on a college player who could be drafted to take over for the weakest link on the line? That way it would segue on from the piece, and be a sort of interesting look forward.

10
by RickD :: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 9:25pm

Well, if Diem's retired and Saturday has left town, it sounds like the Colts need a lot of help.
Andrew Luck may be looking up a lot this season.

7
by CG43 :: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 1:31pm

I think it would be better if you answered a question from a former coach and drew up a funny blitz of the week.

Personally, I'd like to see a brief outline of a specific attribute/move that is integral to success as an O-Liner and an example of a former or current player that exhibits said attribute/move.

8
by Podge (not verified) :: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 2:09pm

I like that idea.

9
by justanothersteve :: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 8:24pm

Since the best player retired and Saturday left, maybe after this year's "Suck for Luck", next year the call should be "Lookout Luck."

12
by Sisyphus :: Tue, 03/27/2012 - 10:56pm

Unfortunately this has very little going for it in terms of predictive value for next season as the Colts will likely have four new starters along the offensive line. They are clearly moving away from their fascination with small offensive linemen.

In free agency the Colts have added: OT Winston Justice (trade Eagles), OG Mike McGlynn: UFA Bengals; and C Samson Satele: UFA Raiders. Castonzo returns at OT as does the injured Ben Iljalana at OG where he will compete with Pollak and/or MCGlynn for a starting job. Linkenbach goes back to the bench as he has proven to be versatile and possibly has an upside. The one place offensively the Colts seem to be trying to shore up quickly is the offensive line.

Luck is facing an issue in that the receiving corps is so thin as to be transparent. While he will have Wayne, Collie, White, and Avery none of those guys are exactly breakaway threats. He is going to need all of the time the rebuilt line can give him.

13
by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 03/28/2012 - 12:59am

Who's the OC?

17
by Frank (not verified) :: Wed, 03/28/2012 - 10:25am

Arians from Pittsburgh. He was their OC last year.

14
by Mr Shush :: Wed, 03/28/2012 - 5:40am

Ben, I thought that one of the major problems on the 2010 Colts line, which struck my inexpert eyes as noticeably weaker than the 2011 version, was Diem at right tackle. Do you think it's plausible that a guy could have lost enough to be a liability at tackle but still be able to be the above average guard you describe? And if not, was it a mistake to move him inside and put Linkenbach at RT?

I'd be very interested to hear about the Bears line, for what it's worth (not a Bears fan, just interested).

15
by Ben Muth :: Wed, 03/28/2012 - 9:33am

It's certainly possible that a position move can do wonders for a player. There are guys that lose the foot speed to block OLBs and DEs but are strong enough to block DTs effectively (when Leonard Davis was moved inside sticks out). Also, I did watch just 1 game. Diem could've just played his best game of the year, which is possible if he knew it would be his last game.

16
by Frank (not verified) :: Wed, 03/28/2012 - 10:23am

Diem MAY have had the best game that particular game...but overall the guy sucks...no Colts fan is sad he retired. Link sucks too...we'll def miss Saturday, but he's the only one.

18
by Lebo :: Wed, 03/28/2012 - 11:52am

Hey Ben,
As a Colts fan I found this piece interesting. However, given the turnover along the Colts' line this off-season this piece doesn't shed much light on what's in store next year.
Perhaps the extra something at the end of future columns could be a review of significant free agent signings? (Although it might be the case that no other teams are revamping their lines to such an extent.)
Cheers