Players We Watched: RB Donald Brown

http://coltsauthority.com/Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive back Troy Polamalu pushes Indianapolis Colts running back Donald Brown out of bounds after a long run. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

During the 2012 preseason there will be certain players that we’ll go back and specifically watch for during the games, trying to get a feel for who will help this team in 2012, and who needs to go home. Prior to the first preseason game against St. Louis, I shared eight players that I would be watching during the game, all eight of which will be reviewed extensively on Colts Authority, along with several other players. The previously reviewed players are listed here:

Jerrell FreemanGeorge FosterKris Adams and Quan CosbyKorey Lindsey | Mewelde Moore

Donald Brown enters his fourth season in the NFL as the starting running back, the first time in his career he has held any type of grip on that spot. Brown showed us last season just what he could do when given snaps.

Now, entering a season where he should have every opportunity to prove his worth, Brown has all the pressure squarely on his shoulders. With young running backs like Vick Ballard impressing in camp, Brown will need to be every bit as valuable as he was in 2011 in order to keep his starting spot. In preseason so far, Brown has done exactly what has been needed to be done in order to show he is a starting-caliber running back. 

In the first preseason game, Brown put Lucas Oil Stadium into a frenzy by taking a short screen from Andrew Luck and turning it into a 63-yard scamper for a touchdown on the Colts’ first offensive play. The play itself was well designed, and the blocks were (for the most part) great, but Brown’s speed, angles, and read on the play showed how explosive he can be once he gets to the second level. 

For the rest of the game, Brown was actually one of the first players to sit down, along with Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, and Reggie Wayne. Still, he had a couple plays of note. 

On his first official play, Brown was hit immediately after receiving the ball, due to center Samson Satele getting pushed back five yards as soon as the ball was snapped. On Brown’s other run on the day, he gained seven yards on the outside. The play was designed to go between the right guard and right tackle, but RG Mike McGlynn got pushed back into the backfield, and Brown bounced the run outside, beat everyone (including the corner) to the edge and turned upfield for seven yards up the sideline. 

In terms of pass protection on the game, Brown was only asked to stay back twice. On the first play, there was a really strange pass protection called for the screen play, where Joe Reitz pulled to the right side to block the DE, the rest of the OL slanted down to the left, and Wayne faked like he was blocking the DE with Castonzo before going out for a screen pass. As I noted earlier, this play needs to go. On the play, Brown shifted to help Reitz on the right side, who, due to the play design, couldn’t get over in time to block the DE effectively. Brown did a reasonable job with the help, but there’s little to take from it. 

On his second play, Brown read the linebacker blitz correctly (two LBs blitzing around the right tackle) and blocked the correct one. Unfortunately, Winston Justice still gave up pressure on the play, quickly getting beat on an inside move. Brown, on the other hand, fulfilled his assignment perfectly. 

In this past week’s game against the Steelers, Brown got some extended playing time, although he was again pulled early to allow Vick Ballard some playing time. 

Brown’s first run was a nice four yard pop, the offensive line got good push, and Brown made the correct read and burst to get the available four yards. Nothing particularly great about the play, but it was effective. His second run was much different, as the offensive line couldn’t get any push at all. At times like these, I’d like to see Brown try and break it outside, but there was no way it was going to happen on this play, as the Steeler OLB and DE were licking their chops with unobstructed views of Brown. He smartly lowered his head and pushed the pile ahead for positive yardage. 

On Brown’s next run, he is once again met by a defender deep in the backfield, as Seth Olsen (who pulls to the left) and Coby Fleener completely fail to block OLB Chris Carter. Brown makes a nifty side step and sneaks through about six Steelers to get positive yardage on the play. Only a one yard run, but it was actually an impressive play by Brown. 

Brown’s best run of the night came on the very next play, Brown again scoots by Carter (who Satele missed on the play) and bursts through the hole, aiming for the pylon. He gets 21 yards (2 1/2 yards short of the goalline) before being run out of bounds. Good agility, read, and speed by Brown on the play. 

On second and goal, the Colts gave the ball to Brown on a plunge on the right side, but Troy Polamalu timed his jump perfectly and helped trip him up about a yard short of the goal line. If it wasn’t for Polamalu, Brown may have been able to power through the pile into the endzone, but not with the All-Pro safety grabbing his legs from behind. On third and goal, the Colts showed faith in Brown, giving it to him again. This time, he found a small crease on the right side and burst through it for the touchdown. 

Brown was also in during the final drive of the half for the first two plays, being the checkdown route. He was the target of the first play, taking the short pass for nine yards. 

As for blocking during the game, Brown was kept back to block four times (not including chips, which he had several of). 

  1. A screen pass to Reggie Wayne, so the block didn’t matter on the play much, but it’s worth noting. Brown’s block slowed up the linebacker, but he recovered quickly and was able to get slight pressure on Luck. It didn’t affect the play from my point of view, but Brown’s attempt at a cut block was poor (which is surprising, simply because his cut blocks in 2011 were very effective). 
  2. Brown has solid technique and a good block on the blitzing linebacker (correct read again). He can’t help but be pushed back a couple steps, but he holds his block and Luck is unscathed.
  3. Brown initially has nobody to block, but as soon as a DL (or LB, the angle is awful) starts to penetrate, Brown’s there to plug the leak. It was good pass protection as a whole unit on the play. 
  4. Again reading the blitz, Brown has another good block on the LB, standing him up and swinging him around so Luck has a lane to step up and make the throw. 

Overall, I understand why people have slight reservations about Brown’s blocking. He’s not a top-notch back in terms of strength, and he can get overpowered by a linebacker coming at him full steam. However, he does have (usually, although his chips aren’t the best by any stretch) good technique, which allows him to both hold his blocks and maneuver the defenders in a way that gives the quarterback time and space to make the throw. If I could pick any one back in the league just to protect the quarterback, I wouldn’t pick Brown, but I am more than comfortable with him back there. 

Combining that with some explosive running in two preseason games, I’ve been very relieved to see Brown defending his right to be starter this preseason. Brown earned about 11-12 carries per game last season, I’d like to see him closer to 16-20 this year. 

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.

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