Week15j

CA Charting Project: Charting the Colts’ Offensive Line, Week 15

Despite another shuffle in personnel, the Colts’ offensive line turned in its second straight exemplary game in pass protection in Indy’s 25-3 win over the Texans on Sunday. Andrew Luck was sacked twice, but one was by an unblocked rusher and the other came when Luck tried to scramble and wasn’t the line’s fault. All six linemen who played scored at least 88% in pass blocking, a slight drop from last week, when everyone hit at least 91%, but still the second best of the seven games I’ve charted for Colts Authority. It was a far cry from the week nine game against the Texans, when everyone but Anthony Castonzo was at 87% or lower. The line also did an excellent job of dealing with stunts for the second consecutive week.

Best of all, the Colts almost completely shut down J.J. Watt, whom ESPN credited with just five tackles (one solo) and one quarterback hit. As Kyle discussed on Thursday, the Colts hit Watt with tons of double teams and were able to keep him out of the play more often than not. That often meant sticking two linemen on him and leaving a tight end or running back singled up with a linebacker or defensive end. The strategy worked brilliantly, as Coby Fleener, Jack Doyle, Donald Brown, Trent Richardson and Weslye Saunders finished a combined 34/39 (87%) in pass blocking, with a single hit allowed.

A healthy dose of screens and quick-hit passes didn’t hurt, either. Give Pep Hamilton credit: he’s starting to figure out how to use his personnel to keep his franchise quarterback upright.

And then there’s the running game.

For whatever reason, the Colts’ offensive linemen (and backs, tight ends and wide receivers) are not good at run blocking. They don’t consistently generate push and they don’t hold their blocks long enough. I checked my tables from these seven games, and they’ve had a total of 16 running plays without a negative block by a lineman, tight end or back, an average of 2.29 per game.

I haven’t charted other teams’ lines, so I don’t know how often the average team has a perfectly blocked play. And the NFL is an incredibly tough league, in which even the schmucks were stars in college and superstars in high school. But 2.29 plays per game in which the running back has a clean lane to run through sure seems like a small number. When they do get everyone blocked successfully, they wind up with plays like Trent Richardson’s 22-yard run on Sunday. Check out that alley:

Hugh Thornton came across on a pull block and wiped Watt out; that’s him on the far right of the cluster of bodies, watching the play pass him by. To his credit, the oft-maligned Richardson showed good burst hitting the hole, ran through an arm tackle, held off one safety and fell forward after a shot by the other safety. Maybe there’s hope for him yet.

On to the breakdowns.

DISCLAIMER: Grading offensive line play is inevitably subjective, since it’s impossible to know assignments and how the linemen are coached. These scores are based on whether the linemen appeared to succeed in their assignments, based on their apparent targets and how the plays developed. I assign all blocks a grade of ‘+’ (good block), ‘-’ (bad block) or ‘/’ (not involved, usually meaning the lineman couldn’t find anyone to block); ‘/’ plays are not scored. My charting table is included at the bottom of this post; I welcome criticism and commentary.

LT Anthony Castonzo
Run blocks: 26/31, 84%
Pass blocks: 32/35, 91%, one pressure
Total: 58/66, 88%

7-game totals
Run blocks: 99/117, 85%
Pass blocks: 286/316, 91%, two sacks
Total: 385/433, 89%

Castonzo essentially had his typical game, as you can see from the percentages above. He’s not a great run blocker, but he’s easily the best on the team, and he’s a fairly reliable pass blocker. After completely shutting down Whitney Mercilus in the first Texans game, Castonzo lost one battle to him this time (though it didn’t result in a pressure or hit), and Ricky Sapp got around him to pressure Luck once. His other missed pass block came when he tripped over Thornton’s feet. On his other 32 pass sets, he was his consistent, occasionally boring self.

Here’s an example of what Castonzo usually did to Mercilus in both Colts-Texans meetings this year:

This is also a perfect example of Indy’s plan throughout this game. Watt lines up over the B gap on the right side of the Colts’ line and loops all the way over to the opposite B gap, but he finds Thornton and Mike McGlynn waiting for him. Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus easily contain the ends. McGlynn passes Antonio Smith to the ever-alert Reitz before going to work on Watt. Brown has his hands full with a blitzing linebacker, and a safety is coming in unblocked, but Luck gets a pass away to T.Y. Hilton for an 8-yard gain before the trouble gets to him. Again, kudos to Hamilton for cooking up a terrific gameplan. Some of these plays were like poetry.

LG Hugh Thornton
Run blocks: 23/31, 74%
Pass blocks: 33/37, 89%, two hits
Total: 56/68, 82%

7-game totals
Run blocks: 82/122, 67%
Pass blocks: 270/302, 89%, two sacks
Total: 352/424, 83%

Thornton also came in right around his usual level in pass blocking. His run blocking, which had been lousy during his mid-season slump, showed a slight uptick, but still wasn’t up to his level from earlier in the season. Thornton had some bad stretches, as he often does, including four missed blocks in five plays on the first drive and four in six plays later on. He also started 3/8 on pull blocks before succeeding on eight of his last nine (on the other he couldn’t find anyone to block).

Thornton did a nice job climbing to the second level and taking on linebackers, going 4/5 on such blocks. That’s been a missing element in the Colts’ run game, as their blockers have often been so bogged down with linemen that they’re not able to climb past them and open holes downfield.

My favorite block of the day came from Thornton and was an awesome display of power and awareness. Get a load of this:

Thornton is blocking Smith (an excellent player) and Joe Mays is coming in on a blitz. Thornton sees Mays coming and uses Smith to block him. It’s possible that I’m giving Thornton too much credit and that he got lucky that Mays came so close behind Smith, but look how he twists Smith to the outside and shoves him into Mays, knocking Mays off balance. It sure looks like he’s doing it on purpose. Either way, he completely neutralized two rushers by himself. Plays like this are why I remain hopeful about Thornton’s future. Note also the tackles making the defensive ends look worthless again, while Watt runs into a wall of bodies in the middle.

Watt supplied a funny moment in the second half when he got singled up on Thornton, couldn’t beat him, and flung his hand in the air to plead for a holding call:

Watt turned and complained to the official as soon as the play was over. Thornton, who definitely didn’t hold, gave a slight nod as Watt walked past, and it looked like they shared a few words. When the camera cut away, two officials were stepping between them. Watt’s a great player, but the Colts visibly frustrated him Sunday.

C Mike McGlynn
Run blocks: 19/31, 61%
Pass blocks: 29/33, 88%, one pressure, two hits
Total: 48/64, 75%

7-game totals
Run blocks: 73/102, 72%
Pass blocks: 194/229, 85%, two sacks
Total: 267/331, 81%

Let’s not get too carried away with this “McGlynn is a better center than Satele” thing. McGlynn’s run and pass blocking percentages were both slightly lower in this game than Satele’s totals from the previous six games (65% and 89%, respectively). That doesn’t necessarily mean Satele’s better, and I will readily allow that it’s probably worth playing McGlynn at center so that we don’t have to watch any more WTF is Samson Satele Thinking (WTFiSST®) moments. They’re amusing, but they’re also terrifying. McGlynn is much less prone to devastating brain farts. Marcus suggested earlier this week that McGlynn might get the line into better calls, and I think the idea has legs, though Watt’s presence meant such a specific game plan in this one that it was hard to tell much.

Still, McGlynn isn’t exactly the second coming of Dermontti Dawson. He’s a battler with very little upside. He gets pushed into the backfield regularly, as on this tragicomic combo block with Xavier Nixon that ruined a Richardson run:

You might also notice on the right side of that screen that Doyle, who was my favorite unsung Colt mere weeks ago, is getting nothing but air on an attempted block of Watt. Doyle was bad in run blocking again. More on him later.

McGlynn had a strong start on Sunday, completing 20 of his first 21 blocks, but he had a stretch near the end of the game in which he was 12/23. Like Thornton, he climbed to the second level a number of times, but he was only 2/5 once he got there, and he was 0/2 on pull blocks. He’s extremely limited in space.

I would be fine with McGlynn replacing Satele on a permanent basis, but no one should get excited about the switch; it’s just swapping inattentive junk for more attentive junk. The real issue is that the Colts apparently have to play one of the two of them, since Khaled Holmes must not be any good or he’d be on the field by now.

Though Satele was out this week, McGlynn and Thornton stepped up to fill the WTFiSST® void on a screen pass to Da’Rick Rogers. So I present to you a new segment: WTF are Mike McGlynn and Hugh Thornton Thinking?

This could have, and probably should have, been a huge play. Here’s the moment Rogers catches the ball:

Fleener and Cherilus are responsible for the cornerbacks, while Thornton and McGlynn pull and head up the field, presumably to take on the single high safety. Keep an eye on the two pursuing linebackers.

Rogers, possibly seeing that Fleener is outside of his man, makes the questionable decision to go outside of Cherilus’ block. Meanwhile, McGlynn and Thornton keep chugging upfield, while those two pursuing linebackers use the extra time afforded by Rogers bouncing outside to close on the play.

This is where things get weird. You know that one high safety? He goes buzzing past McGlynn and Thornton, and they don’t change course to block him even a little bit. Thornton doesn’t even turn his head:

That safety is the last man back. I have no idea what McGlynn and Thornton are planning to do. Ideally, one of them would have tried to block that safety and the other would have either helped Fleener or turned to take out one of those pursuing linebackers. Slightly less ideally, they would have both gone after the safety and at least impeded his progress. Instead, they just keep going, like a modern Thelma and Louise. For good measure, Fleener loses his block, and Da’Rick is left with this:

RG Joe Reitz
Run blocks: 3/6, 50%
Pass blocks: 5/5, 100%
Total: 8/11, 73%

7-game totals
Run blocks: 14/21, 67%
Pass blocks: 56/58, 97%
Total: 70/79, 89%

Get well soon, Joe! Reitz was concussed at some point during the Colts’ first drive and didn’t return. As of Thursday, he still wasn’t practicing. Which is unfortunate, because it turns out Reitz is an outstanding pass blocker. As was the case last week, his run blocking isn’t great, but hey, neither is anyone else’s on this line.

Reitz got singled up with Watt on the second play of the game. Watt hit him with those enormous arms and pushed him back into the pocket. But Reitz, with his trademark athleticism, dropped his feet back, regained his leverage and forced Watt past Luck, giving his quarterback a window to throw. Once again, his balance and agility allowed him to make a play most guys his size couldn’t make:

Reitz can’t get back soon enough. His development these last few games is the best thing to happen to the Colts’ offensive line all season.

RG Xavier Nixon
Run blocks: 13/27, 48%
Pass blocks: 28/32, 88%, one pressure, two hits
Total: 41/59, 69%

7-game totals
Run blocks: 15/30, 50%
Pass blocks: 28/32, 88%
Total: 43/62, 69%

Yikes. It’s not entirely Nixon’s fault, since he’s a natural tackle who was recently brought up from the practice squad. But yikes. He was horrific in the running game, becoming the first lineman I tracked to complete less than half of his run blocks. He missed four of his first five run blocks and six of his last 13 as the Colts were trying to run out the clock.

On the bright side, Nixon was decent in pass protection. His one real blemish there was allowing a hit that affected a Luck pass that probably would have been a T.Y. Hilton touchdown, or at least a first down inside the 5. The ball came up just short of Hilton; here’s where Hilton was when he came out of his break and Luck made his throw:

Once again, Reitz can’t get back soon enough.

Also, once again, how bad must Khaled Holmes be? He can supposedly play center or guard, but he can’t get a whiff of playing time ahead of two complete stiffs at center or an undrafted rookie tackle who just came off the practice squad and has never played guard at any level? Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

RT Gosder Cherilus
Run blocks: 22/30, 73%
Pass blocks: 32/35, 91%, two pressures
Total: 54/65, 83%

7-game totals
Run blocks: 89/118, 75%
Pass blocks: 274/310, 88%, four sacks
Total: 363/428, 85%

Cherilus was steady in pass protection, playing slightly above his seven-game percentage and doing admirable work on the Texans’ ends. He and Nixon had a couple rough moments early on, but they ironed out their communication. Cherilus did a nice job helping Nixon out when necessary and, as usual, was generally excellent when left in isolation on a single pass rusher.

Cherilus’ most annoying habit reared its ugly head again several times this week: he quickly loses interest in running plays and lets his man go. Watch him on Brooks Reed in this play:

He only grabs Reed for a beat, then lets him go, and Reed is part of the pile that tackles Brown. It doesn’t hurt the Colts too much on this particular play, since Watt beat Thornton and the safety came in unblocked anyway. But Cherilus does this all the time, and sometimes it causes real damage.


The non-lineman blockers:

Fleener was a mediocre 12/18 in run blocking, but went 13/15 in pass blocking. His work is ugly sometimes, and his thin frame can get tossed around, but he wasn’t terrible.

I know I keep saying this, but what the hell has happened to Jack Doyle? He’s regressed badly in run blocking, where he was 13/23 in this game. He did go 6/7 in pass blocking. I can sum up Doyle’s struggles in two screen grabs:

These blocks come on what looks like the same play on consecutive drives as the Colts are running out the clock. In both, Doyle comes across the formation to block Mays. In the first play, Doyle hurtles at Mays full-speed and lays out. Mays easily sidesteps him and tackles Richardson for no gain. In the second, having apparently learned from his mistake, Doyle approaches Mays, loses all his momentum, settles back on his heels and sort of hugs him. In doing so, he generates no push, and Tashard Choice has no hole to run through; Mays helps tackle Choice for a 1-yard gain.

It seems Doyle is struggling to find that Goldilocks zone. It’s always “This block is too hard” or “This block is too soft” with him these days. It’s puzzling, because he was killing it in the first several games I charted.

Saunders was 8/12 in run blocking and 4/5 in pass blocking. He was passable as a lead blocker, and I wonder if he’ll start taking more of the primary blocking tight end duties from Doyle.

Brown was 3/4 in pass blocking and gave up a hit. Richardson was 8/8 in pass blocking and did lots of excellent work there, but he blew a run block on Rogers’ reverse.

Ricardo Mathews played one snap as a fullback and completed a run block.

Finally, while I don’t track wide receiver blocking closely, I want to say that Rogers is showing lots of promise as a blocker. Though he needs lots of work on his route-running, the fact that he’s showing effort in blocking is a good sign, particularly since Darrius Heyward-Bey seems to be getting worse and worse in that area.


 


Play

Castonzo

Thornton

McGlynn

Reitz

Nixon

Cherilus

Hilton 7 pass

+

+

+

+


 

+

Incomplete

+

+

+

+


 

+

Hilton 8 pass

+

+

+

+


 

+

Brown 26 run

2nd level, +

2nd level, +

-

Pulls, -


 

+

Incomplete

+

+

+

+


 

+

Brown 4 run

2nd level, +

-

+

Pulls, 2nd level, +


 

+

Richardson 1 run

+

-

+

+

+

2nd level, -

Brown 7 run

+

Pulls, +

+

2nd level, +


 

+

Brown 2 run

+

Pulls, -

+

2nd level, -


 

-

Richardson 1 run

+

2nd level, -

+

2nd level, -

-

-

Whalen 14 TD pass

+

+

+

+


 

+

Drive total

11/11

7/11

10/11

8/11

1/2

8/11

Hilton 9 pass

+

+

+


 

Gives up hit

+

Rogers 11 pass

+

+

+


 

+

Gives up pressure

Whalen 5 pass

+

+

+


 

+

+

Brown -1 run

+

2nd level, +

+


 

-

+

Luck 7 scramble

+

+

+


 

+

/

Richardson 18 pass

+

Pulls, -

Pulls, /


 

+

+

Interception

+

+

+


 

+

-

Drive total

7/7

6/7

6/6

 

5/7

4/6

Hilton 8 pass

+

+

+


 

+

+

Incomplete

+

+

+


 

+

+

Hilton 6 pass

/

+

+


 

+

+

Whalen 8 pass

+

+

+


 

+

+

Richardson 0 run

2nd level, -

+

-


 

-

/

Richardson 0 run

+

Pulls, +

-


 

2nd level, +

+

Drive total

4/5

6/6

4/6

 

5/6

5/5

Incomplete

+

+

+


 

Gives up hit

+

Richardson 2 run

+

+

+


 

-

-

Doyle -4 pass

+

+

/


 

-

+

Drive total

3/3

3/3

2/2

 

0/3

2/3

Richardson 2 run

+

Pulls, -

+


 

-

-

Hilton 41 pass

+

+

/


 

+

+

Incomplete, def. pass interference

+

+

+


 

+

+

Richardson -2 run

+

+

-


 

+

+

Richardson 9 TD pass

+

Pulls, +

+


 

+

+

Drive total

5/5

4/5

3/4

 

4/5

4/5

Incomplete

+

+

+


 

+

+

Rogers 12 pass

+

Pulls, -

Pulls, -


 

Pulls, +

+

Richardson 1 run

+

-

2nd level, +


 

+

+

Incomplete

-

Gives up hit

+


 

+

+

Richardson 6 pass

+

+

+


 

+

/

Drive total

4/5

2/5

4/5

 

5/5

4/4

Luck 8 scramble

+

+

/


 

+

Gives up pressure

Richardson -1 run

Pulls, -

Pulls, -

+


 

2nd level, -

-

Incomplete

+

+

+


 

+

+

Drive total

2/3

2/3

2/2

 

2/3

1/3

Hilton -4 pass

+

+

Pulls, /


 

Pulls, /

+

Whalen 18 pass

/

+

+


 

+

+

Richardson 1 run

+

Pulls, +

-


 

-

+

Richardson 8 run

+

Pulls, +

-


 

+

2nd level, +

Incomplete

+

+

+


 

+

/

Luck 4 scramble

+

+

+


 

+

+

Incomplete

+

+

Gives up hit


 

+

+

Drive total

6/6

7/7

3/6

 

5/6

6/6

Richardson 1 run

+

Pulls, +

+


 

-

-

Luck 11 scramble

+

+

Gives up pressure


 

+

+

Incomplete

-

Gives up hit

+


 

Pulls, +

+

Richardson 5 pass

+

+

Gives up hit


 

+

+

Incomplete

+

+

+


 

Gives up pressure

+

Drive total

4/5

4/5

3/5

 

3/5

4/5

Rogers 0 run

Pulls, +

Pulls, +

Pulls, -


 

+

+

Hilton 3 pass

+

+

+


 

+

+

-1 sack

Gives up pressure

+

+


 

+

+

Drive total

2/3

3/3

2/3

 

3/3

3/3

Richardson 2 run

+

Pulls, +

-


 

2nd level, -

-

Richardson 14 run

+

+

2nd level, -


 

-

+

Richardson 3 run

+

+

+


 

-

+

Drive total

3/3

3/3

1/3

 

0/3

2/3

Richardson 1 run

-

+

2nd level, +


 

-

+

Richardson 22 run

+

Pulls, +

+


 

+

+

Richardson 0 run

-

Pulls, +

+


 

2nd level, -

+

Incomplete

Pulls, /

Pulls, /

+


 

+

+

Richardson 9 run

+

+

2nd level, -


 

+

+

Drive total

2/4

4/4

4/5

 

3/5

5/5

Choice 5 run

+

+

-


 

-

+

Choice 4 run

+

-

2nd level, -


 

+

+

Choice 1 run, nullified by def. offside

+

2nd level, +

+


 

+

+

Choice 2 run

-

2nd level, +

+


 

+

+

Choice 1 run

+

Pulls, +

+


 

+

+

Choice 6 run

+

+

+


 

+

+

Drive total

5/6

5/6

4/6

 

5/6

6/6


 

Castonzo

Thornton

McGlynn

Reitz

Nixon

Cherilus

Run total

26/31

23/31

19/31

3/6

13/27

22/30

Run percentage

84

74

61

50

48

73

Pass total

32/35

33/37

29/33

5/5

28/32

32/35

Pass percentage

91

89

88

100

88

91

Pressures

1

0

1

0

1

2

Hits

0

2

2

0

2

0

Sacks

0

0

0

0

0

0

Grand total

58/66

56/68

48/64

8/11

41/59

54/65

Grand total percentage

88

82

75

73

69

83

 

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