Word of Muth
Dive into the details of offensive line play with a former all-PAC-10 left tackle

Word of Muth: Horse Power

by Ben Muth

The Indianapolis Colts beat the Tennessee Titans on Sunday Night Football to win the last AFC wild-card spot and advance into the postseason. It was a close game in the fourth quarter but it was also one that the Colts controlled throughout. The biggest reasons the game was competitive were a horrendous pick-six thrown by Andrew Luck and a lost fumble in the red zone by Indy. The ultimate 33-17 final score was pretty indicative of the general flow of the game.

It was a total team win where every unit did its part, and that certainly extends to the offensive line. The Colts protected Luck and controlled the line of scrimmage in the run game. The thing that stood out most to me was how often Indianapolis' line was able to knock Tennessee's defensive line back into the linebacker corps.

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I could probably just show you this one GIF and you would get a decent feel for the game. Both of Tennessee's tackles end up 5 yards off the line of scrimmage by the time the running back gets to them. This is just a simple duo scheme (called "duo" because there's two double-teams, it ain't rocket science). The Colts get good double-teams from left guard Quenton Nelson (56) and left tackle Anthony Castonzo (74), and also from center Evan Boehm (67) and right guard Mark Glowinski (64).

Nelson's technique here is awesome. He takes a quick gather step with his inside foot; this helps guard against a quick slant by the defensive tackle, and helps load up for the second step, which is where your power is. Then he drives that second step right down the middle of the man. A coaching point I once heard that has always stuck with me is that you want to step on the defender's inside testicle with that second step (again, not rocket science). As Nelson is taking that step, he gives the defender the flipper to try to pop him up and raise his pad level. Some coaches prefer a one-arm punch because they think the flipper makes it too easy to get held by dirty, cheating defenders, but the flipper does give you better power and leverage. Then Nelson marches his feet and keeps his shoulders square so he can successfully come off onto the linebacker.

Perhaps the most famous piece of equipment for an offensive line coach is the Crowther sled, named after its inventor, former line coach Rae Crowther. Every team that runs any kind of gap scheme will have one, and Nelson looks like he's hit one 2,000 times, because his technique here is exactly how you hit the Crowther. It's beautiful, really. The other double-team by the center and right guard is every bit as good, but I wanted to talk about stepping on testicles and Rae blocking sleds. That's an easy 8 yards for a running back.

via Gfycat

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Here the Colts are running single-back power, but the left tackle and left guard have a similar block. Once again, Castonzo and Nelson are great. They simply block the defensive tackle right into the linebacker. Look at 56 feed the tackle the burrito again. Nelson lifts that forearm right up under the shoulder pads to pop the defender up so Castonzo can start to drive him out. Good football.

via Gfycat

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This time it's right tackle Braden Smith (72) and right guard Glowinski on the double-team. They don't get as much movement as the left side has been getting, but the still knock the defensive tackle (Darius Kilgo, 97) a good 3 yards back off the ball. Smith does a nice job of coming off late and getting the linebacker (Jayon Brown, 55) to create the seam for the 20-yard gain.

With the way the Colts were pushing Tennessee around up front, I was surprised the Titans didn't try more line movement and slants. It seemed like without Jurrell Casey, they didn't have the guys to try to just play straight-up, and it looked like the Colts might have struggled with some movement at parts of the game.

via Gfycat

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This looks like duo again, but the hard slant from the play-side defensive tackle (DaQuan Jones, 90) causes Glowinski to whiff and then grab and hold (it was called). It wasn't something Tennessee did a lot of, but the Colts have Houston in the first round this weekend. The Texans have J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, two incredibly athletic players who will quick-swim out of a gap even if no slant is called. You have to play in control against them or they'll make you look dumb. It will be interesting to see if it causes Indianapolis problems on Saturday.

The other part of the Colts line that impressed me was their blitz pickup. It was made all the more impressive because they were playing their backup center in Boehm.

via Gfycat

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A big myth is that you have to be perfect in blitz pickup to really hurt the defense. A lot of the time, if you can just muddy the waters and get in the way of the most dangerous blitzers, the quarterback will have time to make a play. This pickup isn't perfect -- the Colts fail to pass off a real difficult three-man stunt on the left side -- but they engage every defender for at least some amount of time. Luck could definitely feel some pressure here, but the offensive line was solid enough for long enough that the quarterback could still step into his throw and deliver a strike. This was a big third-down conversion on the first drive of the game.

via Gfycat

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Here, Tennessee is showing blitz one way and dropping and bringing a nickel from the opposite side. The Colts pick it up perfectly. Both guys that drop were accounted for by Nelson and running back Jordan Wilkins (20), who you can see checking over there before releasing on a checkdown. Then the slide side picks up the nickel with no issue.

The Colts didn't just pick up the blitz, they blocked it really well and gave Luck a perfect pocket to step into and make another throw down the field, where the bluffing linebackers couldn't really get back in time to do anything. This was another third-down conversion in the first quarter.


9 comments, Last at 06 Jan 2019, 8:54am

3 Re: Word of Muth: Horse Power

"The other double-team by the center and right guard is every bit as good, but I wanted to talk about stepping on testicles and Rae blocking sleds."

There's an offensive lineman attitude if I've ever heard one. Great column, as always, Ben!

7 Re: Word of Muth: Horse Power

Thanks as always, Ben. I was skeptical of the hype around Nelson (having not watched Indy much this year), but those first two gifs were damned impressive.

9 Re: Word of Muth: Horse Power

In the third gif, it looks like the left tackle gets away with a hold. Not sure if it affects the play, but he’s definitely got a fistful of jersey in his left hand.

Love the column as always!