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

Word of Muth: What Horseshoe?

Word of Muth: What Horseshoe?
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Ben Muth

The Colts' season pretty much ended in about 15 minutes of game time last weekend. Indianapolis received the ball to start the game and went three-and-out. The Chiefs came down and scored. This process repeated itself a couple of more times and suddenly the game felt over before the team mom had time to hand out orange slices and Capri Suns.

It's a weird game to look back on because it was seemingly out of reach after the Colts ran nine plays on offense. A blocked punt offered a quick glimmer of hope, but a missed field goal going into the half seemed to extinguish that. There were clear issues with the offense that led to ineffectiveness in the first half, but I don't think you can put much blame on the offensive line.

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This is the first play of the game, and to say it went poorly for the Colts would be an understatement. The Colts are running an Inside Zone with a Slice concept (a player comes back across the play to cut off the backside pursuit) and tight end Mo Alie-Cox (81) is simply too slow. Dee Ford (55) explodes upfield and makes a tackle for a loss. This isn't on the offensive line at all.

Now, it may look like Mark Glowinski at right guard (64) also misses his block, and he does, but it's because the running back's track is thrown off so much by Ford's pursuit. Slice usually hits on the backside of the center, so Glowinski is stepping like that will be the case. Then the back gets chased front-side so quickly, it throws off the timing of the block because the guard's linebacker (Reggie Ragland, 59) shoots the gap quicker and further away than Glowinski was expecting or prepared for. This whole blow-up was caused by Alie-Cox by being slow and Ford playing with great urgency.

The Colts ended up having a nice 10-yard second-down run the next play and still had a good chance to convert. But Eric Ebron dropped the third-down pass and forced the punt. The three-and-out was a bad start for Indianapolis, and their tight ends in particular.

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Here's first down on the next drive. The pass protection is solid, but Quenton Nelson at left guard 56 does get walked a little too far back, and that allows his man (Chris Jones, 95) to knock the ball down at the line of scrimmage. Of course, the reason he gets walked back is a blatant hands to the face by the defender. Jones just sticks his hand right under Nelson's facemask, pops his head like a Pez dispenser, leaves it there, and rushes into Andrew Luck's lap. I'd call it an egregious no-call, but refs call defensive hands to the face roughly 15 percent of the time when it happens, so it's not surprising it was missed here. But it was a big miss by the officials and put Indy in second-and-10 instead of first-and-10 after a 15-yard penalty.

via Gfycat

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On Drive 3, the Colts finally ran a successful first-down play. It's a Duo concept that they had run very well the last few weeks I've been covering them. The Chiefs do a good job with their alignment though, and have enough people on the line of scrimmage that Indy only gets one double-team where they usually get two on this play. The Colts offensive line has been killing teams on double-teams recently, so limiting them to just one on this concept is a win for the defense. This is a case of good game planning by K.C. to limit something the Colts do well.

The Colts only get a chance at one double-team, but they do make the most of it. Glowinski and Braden Smith (72) knock their defender off the ball a couple of yards, and then Glowinski climbs to the linebacker beautifully. The back hits it right behind them and gains 6 yards, and they probably would've gained more if they had a chance for that second double somewhere. Still, it put the Colts in second-and-4 and gave them a great chance of picking up a first down.

via Gfycat

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Here's the next play, and this is a case of the Chiefs out-scheming the Colts. Kansas City has more guys than Indy can block. I'm not sure if Luck could get out of this play, but I do know it's hard to block seven guys with six if you aren't going to read someone. Once again, it's Dee Ford who explodes off the ball and makes the tackle for a short gain to force a third down. On third down, Luck took a coverage sack and it was another three-and-out for Indianapolis.

And frankly, that was pretty much it for the game. After three drives the Chiefs were up by three scores and the entire dynamic of the game changed, and it really didn't have anything to do with the offensive line's performance at all. The Colts had to try to get away from the run a bit. There were moments where you thought the Colts might get something going and mount a rally just because it was Andrew Luck vs. the Chiefs, but this Chiefs offense is too good to spot 17 points to.

That's not to say that this was a great game for Colts' offensive line. I thought they were OK, but it seemed like they did struggle in the second half after Kansas City forced them to become more one-dimensional. I know there's a push that teams should pass way more than they currently do across the league, but I will say from an offensive lineman's perspective, it's tough to pass-block guys who aren't worried about stopping the run. I think the Colts found that out as the game wore on.

via Gfycat

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This was the drive after the Colts defense forced a fumble, and it was really the final nail in the coffin. Once more, it's Ford off the edge who makes the play. He beats Smith, who I've liked this year. Smith gets into trouble when he opens up his hips too much at the top of his set. Ideally, you want to stay fairly square to the line of scrimmage for at least two or three kick-steps back in your pass set. Smith really only gets one-and-a-half steps back before he starts to open up.

The problem when you open up too soon is that you don't gain ground when you do it, so as Smith swings that right foot open, he's not gaining any ground vertically while Ford is in basically a dead sprint upfield. You want the defender at quarterback depth or deeper before you open up to try to run him by; if you do it too soon, you aren't deep enough to force him around the quarterback, and that's when strip-sacks happen.

via Gfycat

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Before we leave, I did want to touch on this play. It was the Colts' longest run of the day up till this point, but it was negated by a holding call on Smith. It was a terrible call, and the official should be embarrassed about making it. Indy is running a Dart concept here (gap blocking with the tackle pulling and leading onto the linebacker) and the Chiefs defender (actually a defensive back, Daniel Sorensen, 49) gives himself up rather than trying to take on the block. That's a fine way to play it -- maybe you can create a pile and delay the back a bit even if you aren't making a tackle. But it didn't work here, and the back gained a bunch of yards.

The issue came when the defender dove at the tackle's knees, Smith kind of grabbed Sorensen's shoulder pads as he was going over the top of him to try to slow himself down from landing right on the top of his head. Sorensen had given himself up and wasn't going to make a play. Smith was flipping over top of him and trying not to break his neck. As a result, there was a little grab that didn't affect the play at all and might have prevented serious injury on Smith. The official thought that warranted what was effectively a 25-yard penalty. This call made my blood boil.

And that will do it for the Indianapolis Colts this year. Longtime Colts fans should be elated about how this group came together and played for the most part this year. Letting go of Dave DeGuglielmo -- the offensive line coach who was surely a big part of that growth -- was a shock, but it sure seems like they have the pieces to have a strong unit for at least a few years to come.


3 comments, Last at 18 Jan 2019, 12:43pm

1 Re: Word of Muth: What Horseshoe?

Good grief, hallelujah, yes. The idea that running should abandoned, or nearly so, in the NFL, because passing is more efficient, is put forth by people who don't have any concept of what needs to happen for a pass play to be successful. Have these people completely ignored the most successful of the past two decades, a team that is perfectly happy to run the ball when the situation makes doing so wise?

As to this game, I thought the Colts had a good chance at an upset, but with the caveat that if the Chiefs jumped out to quick two score lead, the chances of doing so would shrink by a huge amount. I think the Colts' pass catchers had a miserable game, and that's the next area Colts management needs to address.

2 Re: Word of Muth: What Horseshoe?

Oh, and thanks for highlighting that awful holding call. Desperate to see a meaningful 4th quarter, I was yelling at the television after that one. Yes, my children believe I should be committed.

3 Re: Word of Muth: What Horseshoe?

It's truly bizarre that they got rid of Dave DeGuglielmo. Obviously they have better players than last year, but they seemed SO much better coached this year. It's a shame we don't have a better way to analyze players and coaching separately.