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

Word of Muth: Indy Dominates

Word of Muth: Indy Dominates
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

The Colts beat their AFC South rivals the Houston Texans 21-7 last Saturday to advance to the divisional round. They got off to a fast start and jumped out to a 21-0 lead and never looked back. That was enough to win the game, and it really never felt like they were particularly close to giving their lead away.

I thought the Colts did some really great things in their run game. It was a multiple attack. They ran a bunch of different concepts including Wham, Dart, Trap, Duo, Power, and a Gopher concept (play-side guard and center pulling to lead outside). I thought that the run game, along with a good mix of passing, did a nice job of keeping a talented Texans front off-balance. Despite how the game went from a scoring standpoint, I actually felt Houston's defensive line looked less effective as the game went along, and the Colts run game plan was a big part of it. Indy didn't score in the second half, but that had much more to do with Luck not being as sharp as he was early than with anything that was happening in the trenches.

The schematic diversity was great to see and interesting, but I thought the last two real plays (excluding kneels) of the game said as much about this matchup as anything else. When the Colts were trying to put the game away on the ground, they ran Duo -- as basic as a play as there is -- back-to-back and gained 15-plus yards each time.

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I rarely like looking at offensive line play from the wide angle, but here it's necessary to see what made this play go. The double-teams on J.J. Watt and Brandon Dunn are phenomenal. Both defenders wind up 3 yards off the line of scrimmage due to the movement generated by sixth lineman Joe Haeg (playing tight end here), Braden Smith at right tackle, Mark Glowinski at right guard, and Ryan Kelly at center. They're flat-out mauling those dudes.

The double-teams are so good that they save Quenton Nelson, who gets beat quickly (and kind of holds). If the rest of the offensive line doesn't generate so much movement so quickly, his man could've wrapped around for a tackle for a short gain. But the back is able to get up field so deep and so quickly because of the interior movement that Nelson's defender can't quite get there.

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I want to hang a GIF of what Braden Smith does at right tackle here on my wall. Look at the pad level, foot drive, and arch in his back once he starts to turn and you can see his profile in this GIF. That's textbook stuff and exactly how you bury a guy (in this case, Christian Covington, 95) inside on short-yardage. This was on a first-and-10, but a four-minute drill is basically always a short-yardage type play. Glowinski and Haeg are very good once again as well.

I also want to point out Mo Alie-Cox (81) at tight end. He does a great job of staying in front of Whitney Mercilus (59). Now, he's helped out by the fact that Mercilus peeks outside for some reason (you got a guy out there, stay in your gap), but that's a tough block for a tight end to make, even when the defender's gap discipline is a little shaky. Those two runs were a great way to end the game for the Colts offensive line, and they send a statement about who this unit is.

The run game was big for the Colts, but the reason they won is that Andrew Luck was on fire in the first half and he helped them jump out to a huge lead. (You could also credit the defense, but who wants to talk about them?) A big part of Luck's success, though, was that Indianapolis was incredible in pass protection. They gave up one sack all game, and it was only a 1-yard loss, and it was negated by a hold in the secondary. It was a very impressive performance against a defense that has some guys who can rush the passer.

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The Colts are one-on-one across the board here and they stone the entire defensive front. Look at the arch in the backs of the three interior guys as they snuff the bull rush. They're not hunched over at all, they're playing in powerful postures. That allows Luck to step up and escape for an easy first down.

The guy here though, is Smith at right tackle (72). He's on an island here against J.J. Watt and does a great job of redirecting outside on the swim move. Watt kills guys with that "jab step inside, swim outside" move, but Smith is all over it here. It's all in his feet -- look at how in step he keeps them when he comes inside. He stays in control with small measured steps, so he has a good base to redirect outside. He gets a little wild with his feet on the redirect, but Watt is redirecting at that moment too, so physically Watt can't play with too much power and Smith has time to settle his feet back down and shadow from there. This is an impressive rep from a guy who played a really nice ball game last weekend.

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This is some more solid pass protection. This time it's the opposite tackle, Anthony Castonzo, who jumps out when he flattens the spinner (Mercilus). The key here is how good he is with his inside hand. That's his heavy hand on his punch, the one he's trying to land with some authority, and he catches Mercilus' back with it right as he starts to spin. That stops the rusher's vertical momentum and turns him into a horizontal player. Then Castonzo plays patty-cake across his back to replace his hands as Mercilus continues to spin and finishes with a shove all the way to the opposite hashmark. That makes it very easy for Luck to step to his left and deliver a deep touchdown.

I also like Glowinski at right guard here (Indy's right side was really good all game). That's how you play slide protection at guard. Carry the slanting defensive tackle (Covington) to your center while keeping your eyes outside. Right when it looks like Watt may have Smith beat, Glowinski closes the distance and gets involved. Nelson at left guard also does a great job with a hump move. The hump move (or trap move) is where you bring both your hands down in a clubbing motion on the arms of a defender who is trying to bull-rush you. When you do it right, the rusher (Brandon Dunn, 92) eats turf. Nelson seems to have a knack for it -- here he is doing it again.

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I'm a little conflicted on Nelson's game as a whole though. There's no doubt that he does some awesome things and I think he was a great draft pick who is going to turn into one of the best five guards in the NFL. At the same time, I think he's pretty significantly overrated right now. I thought he was noticeably the Colts' worst offensive lineman in the wild-card round.

That's actually pretty common with rookie linemen. If you're a first-round draft pick, particularly a top-10 pick, it's because you are a beast and you're going to have awesome highlights (usually in space, because you are athletic enough to pull). You're also going to be one of the few offensive linemen that the average color commentator is going to know by name and be looking out for. So your highlights are always going to be pointed out because it's one of the times the commentator can talk about offensive line play and be excited.

But high-level O-line play is much more about technique and consistency then it is pancake highlights and leading out on screen passes. Nelson had a couple of penalties and got beat more often than his linemates on Saturday. The highs are so high that I'm very confident that he'll turn into a really good player, but right now he's just pretty good and a little inconsistent from what I've seen. But I've thought the same things about guys like Trent Williams and Travis Frederick when I watched them in their first seasons too, and they turned into legit studs.


10 comments, Last at 12 Jan 2019, 8:26am

2 Re: Word of Muth: Indy Dominates

Imagine being Houston's / Jax's / TT's front office. Luck is back, with an apparently great match at head coach / play-caller, and they have a young, ever-better OL...

... that just man-handled Watt and Clowney...

... and Indy has huge FA bucks if they wanna spend 'em...

What's your team building strategy?

3 Re: Word of Muth: Indy Dominates

This is great. Is there a handy spot where we can get descriptions of some of these runs? I know trap, power, etc, but not as familiar with dart or duo.

5 Re: Word of Muth: Indy Dominates

As someone who has been bitching for years about high end Colts qbs forced to play behind crap lines, I'm kind of kicking myself for not making it a point to watch the Colts earlier this season, but it sure has been fun since I started. As much as I dread the stupid anti-Reid takes which will be forthcoming if the Chiefs lose, I really want to see a wild card team, which decided to make a concerted effort to upgrade its oline, open up a can on a number 1 seed with a bad defense.

7 Re: Word of Muth: Indy Dominates

Sir -

It was only a couple of years ago we were both arguing that Luck should demand a trade. My how things change! I think this is one of the reasons those of us who love football do - teams, and individual careers, turn so quickly.

9 Re: Word of Muth: Indy Dominates

Hey, and I still say we were right. Luck finally was the recipient of some good, er, luck. The odds of Briefcase Jimmy Irsay actually improving on the Grigson hire were not especially good, and as It was Luck's injuries really brought him to the precipice of disaster.

6 Re: Word of Muth: Indy Dominates

Is there a reasonable way to try to analyze offensive line coaching vs. players? There are definitely some new players this year but they also have a new OLine coach.

8 Re: Word of Muth: Indy Dominates

It's a good question. I've always thought O-line coaching matters a lot, but all the information I have is anecdotal (from the Pats). Scarnecchia retired after 2013. DuGuglielmo coached the line in 2014 and they won the SB, playing reasonably well. They regressed in 2015, Scarnecchia came back in 2016 and the line played better and they won the SB in 2016. In particular, Nate Solder commented that Scarnecchia taught a slightly different stance that he felt was more effective for him. Now maybe it was just the familiarity of returning to what he had been taught since he took over for Matt Light. But I figured Scarnecchia just knew how to get more out of his players than DeGuglielmo did.