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Running Back Pass Protection: Donald Brown is the Biggest Bust Of All Time

In case you’re wondering, Brown is not the biggest bust of all time. There’s your daily dose of irony, sarcasm, and blatant lying right there. 

If you’ve read my work for any period of time, you’ll know that I’ve been a big defender of Donald Brown. Most Colts fans have been extremely critical of Brown, especially after his first two years in the league, where he struggled to find and hit holes quickly and was susceptible to going down very easily. I’ll admit, I didn’t like Brown after his rookie year. I was a fan of Addai, and Brown couldn’t pass block, or run well in my opinion. Shoot, in 2010, I thought Mike Hart should have been playing over Brown, and that Brown was terrible in pass protection

However, after his 2011 season, I am going forward as a fan of Donald Brown. He won me over. He ran well, and after watching the games through the first time, it seemed like he was much more adept at pass blocking than he had in the past. But has he actually, or was my mind playing tricks on me? After reviewing Joseph Addai and Delone Carter earlier this week, we find out whether Brown actually has the skills to move forward as the number one back. 

The answer surprised me. 

Snaps: 72

Reads: 62 good, 4 bad

Blocks: 52 positive, 4 poor, 4 missed

Pressure: 2 hits, 0 hurries, 2 sacks

Let me just say this: 

Wow. 

I must say, as a defender in Donald Brown, the review surprised even me. Brown, after having two poor initial years in the NFL, was far better than I imagined in pass protection. 

I kept expecting him to slip up, and he did, occasionally. He was good for just about one mistake a game. There was only one game where he played at least five snaps and didn’t make a mistake (Week 6 against the Bengals: 7 snaps, 5 good reads, 5 solid blocks).

But, it usually stopped there. Brown only had four missed blocks and four bad reads. In each category, they came in four separate games. Brown only gave up four total pressures by my count (PFF gives him two), and they all came in separate games. He did have two games with two poor blocks, but other than that, he generally limited himself. 

I was awfully surprised by his 94% success rate in reads, matching Joseph Addai. Brown had a couple hiccups with reads, including one that led to a sack in the Saints game, and one that led to a nasty QB hit against the Bucs. But overall, Brown made the right read, time and time again. 

But what I was most impressed by was Brown’s ability to stone cold blank blitzing linebackers at times. For a guy who isn’t a particularly physical back, and one that could even be labeled small, he was by far the most consistent blocker. His solid block rate of 84% easily beat out Addai’s 72%, and crushed Delone Carter’s rate of just 58%. Brown used a variety of moves to block blitzing linebackers and surging linemen, sometimes riding them outside and around the quarterback, other times using a cut block to knock them to the ground (which did fail once when the QB didn’t get rid of the ball and the linebacker recovered to get a sack), and often times just stopping a blitzer in their tracks with a fantastic straight-up block. 

One of the best examples of this came against Carolina in Week 12. 

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As you can see, Brown is lined up on the right of Curtis Painter, with tight end help on his side (Tamme will stay in to block). This leaves him free in case a blitzing linebacker or defensive back comes in. In this case, the blitzing defender will be the slot cornerback, who doesn’t show blitz until just before the snap. Painter does not recognize it, leaving Brown on his own to see the blitzer. 

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Fortunately for Painter, Brown reacts to the blitzing corner and comes across the pocket to challenge him, getting across Painter’s line of vision and into position before the defensive back can get to the pocket. 

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Look at this form. Brown has a wide base, hands inside, and is lower than the defender. Prototypical form as he stops the DB in his tracks. 

As the defender continues to chug his feet, Brown rides him back behind Painter, giving him an excellent pocket to work with as the offensive linemen also do their job. Of course, Painter didn’t complete the throw, but that wasn’t all that unexpected, was it? 

Best Performance: 

During Week Six against the Bengals, Brown had a very good game, a perfect 5-for-5 in reads and blocks on seven snaps. Like Addai though, he had another game that was slightly more impressive, during Week Nine against the Falcons. During that game he did whiff on a block, but other than that was perfect, getting nine solid blocks on ten good reads. 

Worst Performance: 

Brown was at his worst during his first game: Week 4 against the Buccaneers (seems to be a trend). Brown was in the game for just three snaps in pass protection, but had both a good read and a solid block in just one play. On another play, he had a terrible read and missed the block, resulting in a particularly ugly looking quarterback hit. In the final play, Brown read the blitz correctly, but his block really didn’t look good at all. Fortunately, Painter got the ball out before it mattered. 

Overall, I would really caution anyone in saying Brown cannot pass block. If someone says that to you, point them to the above play. Sure, it’s just one play, but it shows that Brown DOES have the skills to be a more than competent pass blocker. Saying that he can’t do it, or “BROWN SUX1!!1!!” is just ignorant and lazy. Brown can block, and showed himself to be adept at it over the last year. That’s one of the reasons why the coaches trusted Brown at the end of games towards the end of the season, like the Houston win in the LOS, where Addai had a good game, but Brown was the one next to Orlovsky during the final, game winning drive. 

In 2011, much like his running, he had a breakout season, especially compared to his first two seasons. Here’s hoping he can continue that trend in 2012. 

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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