Good afternoon, Colts fans. For today’s late edition of the Notebook (no, not that Notebook), we’ll talk about Pagano’s take on the offensive line, some good blocking from the likes of Vick Ballard and Darrius Heyward-Bey, and, of course, Andrew Luck’s touchdown run.
Blocking and Blitz Pickup
Sunday’s game against Oakland began with two very good drives, and, despite a sack, it was mostly a good showing by the offensive line. Things appeared to change at some point in the second quarter, however, as Luck would be sacked three more times in the game, and the offense virtually ground to a halt until their game winning drive.
On the performance of the offensive linemen, Chuck Pagano was very positive, but he acknowledged the need for improvement. “I thought they played good,” he began. “There’s always going to be, especially in the opener, some things to clean up. They’d all tell you they’d be the first ones across the board to tell you that we’ve got to play better and we will play better. But again, you rush for 127 yards and average 4.9 per carry. We said going in we’d love to be at 4.0. So we hit that goal. We’ve got to clean up. It’s some communication things, some technique things. Again, it’s the first ball game and we’ll be better as far as run-blocking and protection going into the second week.”
While conventional stats don’t tell the whole story, at least they don’t tell a bad story with the running game, as they did for much of 2012. Meanwhile, the offensive line knows they need to play better and more consistently. A good game against Cameron Wake and the Dolphins on Sunday would be a huge step in the right direction. They will want to prove they can protect the franchise quarterback, and there’s no better time to do it. The unit can ill afford giving up another four-sack game.
One thing that may have gone a bit unnoticed against the Raiders was running back Vick Ballard’s pass blocking. The line may have had a rough day, but it helped that they could depend on Ballard to handle his blocking assignment when he had one. In fact, according to Pagano, Ballard was able to pick up the blitz every time they asked him to on Sunday.
“Unbelievable,” Pagano said of the second year running back. “He was, I think, going over the grades today, I think he was 6-for-6 in his protections picking up blocks. He was outstanding. We saw him do the same thing in the preseason, in training camp, practice. Again, we’re not going to hit our own guys like that. But he knows exactly what to do and he’s not thinking out there and he plays fast. He did a great job in protection.”
By saying Ballard wasn’t thinking, Pagano of course means he already knew what he had to do and didn’t have to slow down and think it through. In football-ese, “not thinking out there,” can be a compliment.
On Sunday, Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor dazzled everyone with his running ability as the Colts defense struggled to contain the former Ohio State dual threat. In the end, however, it was Andrew Luck who won the game with his legs. From the shotgun at 19-yard line, Luck stepped up in the pocket to see the no one open and virtually no one in the middle of the field.
Without wasting a second, he decisively tucked the ball and bolted forward, aided by a beautiful block from receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey and another from Reggie Wayne (Wayne’s wasn’t as noticeable, but it was certainly noteworthy). Luck sidestepped the defender engaged by DHB and evaded a diving shoestring tackle attempt from a linebacker for what would be the deciding score.
Great blocking by the wide receivers, and a touchdown run, but it was not a designed running play. According to Luck, “None of them were designed quarterback runs. They were all throwing designed.”
On the play, it looks like the center and left guard may have had trouble with their blocks, while the two tackles pushed their defenders far out of the play. Samson Satele was able to avoid calamity by redirecting the nose tackle to the offense’s left side, into the gap where Donald Thomas’s defender was trying to go, and Luck was left with the entire offensive and defensive lines behind him and no linebackers in his vicinity.
“Yeah, just the way the middle of the field opened up. They had good coverage,” Luck said of the touchdown play. “They doubled Reggie (Wayne). The guy covering Coby (Fleener) was tight and those were my first two reads. It sort of opened up as I was stepping up. Again, Darrius (Heyward-Bey) made a great block.”
It turned out to be a great play, but Luck said he prefers getting the pass off “99.99 percent of the time.” As far as running, Luck added, “It’s definitely a good option. I’d much rather throw the ball and get it in the true athletes’ hands.”
Someone jokingly asked him whether he was a read option quarterback. “No (laughs). No, no. Absolutely not,” he said.
Luck on how the team reacted to Oakland taking the lead: “No, no panic. That’s sort of the DNA of the team. We realize it’s a long ball game. It’s not really over until it’s over. Guys keep playing and I’m glad we could come out with a win.”
Antoine Bethea on the Colts’ week one struggles in recent years: “We were able to come out with a win. That’s the most important thing. We still have some corrections to be made. Like you said, a good start. We just want to continue to build off that.”
Bethea on starting so many (81 consecutive) times over his career: “It means a lot. Being able to step out on the field week-in and week-out, having my team depend on me, my coaches just knowing that I’ll be there week-in, week-out. It means a lot to be able to go out there and be on the field every Sunday.”
Pagano on Antoine Bethea and what he brings to the team: “Everything. He brings great passion, like number 30 (LaRon Landry), great energy, desire and a will to win. Communication back there is vital, he runs the whole show back there with that whole secondary. Starting as many games as he’s started and all those type of things just speaks to his toughness, durability, his will to be out there week-in and week-out for such a long period of time. He’s a really, really good football player, smart football player. We’re lucky that he is as durable as he is and we have him every Sunday and we can count on him.”
Pagano on injury updates: “Dwayne’s MRI came back negative, so that was good news. He’ll be in all day tomorrow for treatment and hopefully be able to roll on Wednesday. He’s a tough guy, so he actually came back and tried to tough that thing out last night. And Pat, he’s still going through the concussion protocol, so he’s day-to-day.”