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CA Charting Project: Offensive Line Charting, Divisional Round

This will come as no surprise, but it wasn’t a banner day for the Colts’ offensive line. Though four linemen were in the 90s in pass-blocking percentage, the usually dependable Anthony Castonzo endured a howler, checking in at 82%. And while Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus both finished an excellent 18/20 in run blocking, the interior of the line was once again horrendous in that area; Hugh Thornton, Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn blew nine, eight, and six run blocks, respectively. The only run that didn’t include at least one blown block by a lineman, tight end, or fullback was Donald Brown’s 16-yard scamper on the Colts’ second-to-last play.

It became glaringly obvious as the game wore on that the Patriots were making the Colts pay for their season-long habit of trying to force square pegs into round holes. Coby Fleener is a terrible run blocker, yet there he was attempting 15 run blocks. He completed only eight and almost single-handedly ruined three early runs, once again driving home how important the re-introduction of Dwayne Allen will be next year (and making one wonder why Jack Doyle didn’t replace Fleener in that role more often). Meanwhile, Brown, who had performed well in pass protection in the second half of the season, was badly overmatched against the Patriots’ bigger, more physical linebackers and gave up two hits and a sack. The Colts had to keep him on the field because he’s far more dangerous than Trent Richardson, and Luck paid the price.

The Patriots didn’t come at the Colts particularly hard with blitzes. They frequently brought only three or four rushers. On top of that, their defensive tackles, who are injury replacements, didn’t offer much pass rush, and left end Rob Ninkovich often appeared to hold back a bit to spy in case Andrew Luck tried to escape the pocket.

The Pats mostly relied on Chandler Jones to get pressure by himself. ESPN credited Jones with just one sack and one hit, but he constantly pushed Castonzo into the Colts’ backfield, speeding up Luck’s internal clock. Many Colts plays looked like this:

The Pats blitz Jamie Collins on that play, and Dont’a Hightower comes on a sort of half-hearted rush. You can see their basic defensive gameplan: a hard drive by Jones that leads to a bump on Luck as he throws and a slow but steady push by the rest of the line, with nowhere for Luck to go if he can’t find an open receiver. Notice how Ninkovich loops all the way around to the right to contain Luck if he scrambles, while Andre Carter (96) holds back a bit on the other side. Though this play resulted in a 22-yard gain when Griff Whalen was able to snag Luck’s lame duck, it could have easily ended in disaster.

Luck ran only once for five yards, which was very much the Patriots’ intention. [Battling the urge to complain about the no-call when Luck was tripped trying to take off for another scramble.] Bill Belichick bet that Jones could generate enough pressure by himself that the rest of his defensive front could play contain, forcing Luck to make mistakes as his mediocre group of receivers struggled to get open in a crowded field. And it worked, to the tune of four picks, three of them on horrendous decisions.

I wrote last week that it would take a better performance than the line had against the Chiefs to beat the Patriots. Put simply, they didn’t get it, which is why the Colts are scattering to their offseason homes instead of getting ready to play the Broncos.

DISCLAIMER: Grading offensive line play is inevitably subjective, since it’s impossible to know assignments and how the linemen are coached. Still, subjective scores provide a useful baseline for qualitative analysis. 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: 18/20, 90%
Pass blocks: 37/45, 82%, two pressures, four hits
Total: 55/65, 85%

11-game totals
Run blocks: 164/201, 82%
Pass blocks: 439/491, 89%, two sacks
Total: 603/692, 87%

As referenced above, Jones kicked Castonzo’s ass, sending the Colts’ left tackle to his worst pass-blocking percentage in the 11 games I charted. It didn’t hurt that Jones repeatedly got away with grabbing Castonzo’s facemask:

I bet Castonzo’s neck is still sore.

Castonzo started terribly, surrendering two hits and a pressure and missing a run block among his first 12 blocks. He completed his next 22, but even during his successful blocks, he usually looked uncomfortable:

Whereas against, say, Houston’s Whitney Mercilus, Castonzo can stand up straight and keep his hands in front of him, Jones’ height and use of leverage forced him to arch his back and retreat into the pocket in an attempt to regain his footing. It was a problem all night.

As good as Castonzo was at times this year, he was a disappointment in the two playoff games. He went a combined 76/92 (83%) in pass blocking and gave up six pressures and six hits. Numerous times, he was saved from allowing a sack because Luck did a nice job of sensing pressure and getting the ball out in a hurry. Castonzo took a big step forward this season and showed that, when he’s on, he can be an outstanding left tackle. Yet the consistency simply isn’t there yet.

I have a humble suggestion. It’s going to sound crazy, and the odds of it happening are probably worse than the odds of me suiting up for the Colts next season. But why not flip Castonzo and Cherilus? Castonzo is the better run blocker and is a step slower than elite left tackles. Cherilus is bigger and looks more like a right tackle, but he’s an inattentive run blocker and a little quicker off the ball. Wouldn’t switching them take better advantage of their strengths? Castonzo is a B+ left tackle and Cherilus is a B+ right tackle. I think Castonzo could be an A- or an A on the right, and Cherilus could probably still be a B+ on the left. This idea will go nowhere, but I thought I’d throw it out there.

LG Hugh Thornton
Run blocks: 10/19, 53%
Pass blocks: 31/33, 94%, one pressure, one hit
Total: 41/52, 79%

11-game totals
Run blocks: 121/180, 67%
Pass blocks: 383/422, 91%, two sacks
Total: 504/602, 84%

Thornton held up in pass protection against the Patriots’ mediocre tackles, but he had a lousy night in run blocking before leaving due to his nagging neck injury. He missed at least one block on every multi-play drive but one. He’ll need to take some big strides this offseason to get where he needs to be, particularly with Donald Thomas coming back, Lance Louis newly signed, and the possibility of another free agent addition.

(Side note: I reviewed a couple of Louis’s games with the Bears in 2012 and came away encouraged. Unless he’s deteriorated badly during his year off, he might already be the Colts’ best run blocker [admittedly, not a ringing endorsement]. The downside: he’s McGlynn-esque as a pass blocker. Pep Hamilton might be eyeing him as a sixth lineman.)

At this point in the season, the offensive line should be a well-oiled machine, particularly since this group played together a large chunk of the year. But there were times on Saturday when they didn’t seem to be on the same page. For example, on their first run, things were looking promising:

Thornton and Satele are both coming off combo blocks. Clearly, one of them needs to block Dane Fletcher (52). But apparently, they both think the other is going to handle him, and they reach for him too late:

Fletcher fights through their arms and into the backfield, forcing Brown into the mass of humanity to his right and resulting in a 1-yard gain:

Thornton can at least use being a rookie as an excuse for this behavior. Satele should know better by now. In any case, mixups like this shouldn’t happen this late in the season. The interior of the line badly needs to be fixed.

Thornton had a few other bone-headed plays, but I don’t want to dwell on the negatives too much with him. He has the highest ceiling of the Colts’ offensive linemen and has shown flashes of brilliance, including in the first playoff game. We’ll see what he can do with another offseason with the team.

LG Jeff Linkenbach
Run blocks: 1/1, 100%
Pass blocks: 11/12, 92%, one sack
Total: 12/13, 92%

11-game totals
Run blocks: 44/65, 68%
Pass blocks: 127/159, 80%, three sacks
Total: 171/224, 76%

Linkenbach came in for the last 13 plays after Thornton went out. The final score was already in place, and the Patriots weren’t trying anything creative. Linkenbach still managed to give up a sack to Chris Jones, though Luck held the ball a long time on the play. Linkenbach is an unrestricted free agent. I won’t be sad to see him go. He ostensibly brings “versatility,” which means he can play both guard and tackle badly.

C Samson Satele
Run blocks: 12/20, 60%
Pass blocks: 41/42, 98%
Total: 53/62, 85%

11-game totals
Run blocks: 116/175, 66%
Pass blocks: 390/430, 91%, two sacks
Total: 506/605, 84%

Despite his reputation as an all-around schmuck, Satele really is a good pass-blocking center. He missed only one pass block and finished with the best pass block percentage on the line for the fourth time in the 11 games I tracked. Pass blocking is easier for a center than it is for a tackle, but he’s been quietly effective for most of the season, aside from his familiar mental lapses (which, in fairness, were far less frequent in the playoffs).

Yet Satele hurts the Colts in the running game. For a supposed beefcake, he gets pushed into the backfield far too often, as on this Brown run (Thornton doesn’t exactly shine here, either):

That’s Hightower, a linebacker, shoving Satele backwards with ease.

For old times’ sake, here’s one last WTF is Samson Satele Thinking® moment (if he’s back next year, it’s a bad sign for the team, though I’ll miss this segment if he’s not). Satele is helping Thornton double-team the tackle, which is admirable enough. But two linebackers are about to blitz through the B-gap between Satele and McGlynn:

Brown tries to cut the first blitzer, which doesn’t work very well. Satele has a clear view of the second blitzer coming behind him:

Here’s the first moment when Satele turns his head to follow that second blitzer. Notice how far around the corner he is and how little chance Satele would have of getting a hand on him.

Luck is already going down in the first blitzer’s clutches anyway, but with Thornton also on his man and only Brown to his right, Satele should have spotted the double blitz several seconds earlier and moved to help.

Alex Mack, Brian de la Puente and Evan Dietrich-Smith are among the names being bandied about as possible free agent acquisitions. Personally, I’d love to see the Colts give Khaled Holmes a shot, but if one of those other guys can be had at a semi-reasonable price, I wouldn’t complain.

RG Mike McGlynn
Run blocks: 14/20, 70%
Pass blocks: 39/43, 91%, one pressure, three hits
Total: 53/63, 84%

11-game totals
Run blocks: 114/164, 70%
Pass blocks: 309/360, 86%, two sacks
Total: 423/524, 81%

McGlynn, like Satele and Linkenbach, needs to go. We all know by now that he’s bad. He was roughly his usual self against the Patriots, with his standard crappy run-blocking percentage, a slightly higher pass-blocking percentage, and a pressure and three hits allowed. He was lively enough and contributed a few help slams to bail out Satele and Cherilus. It wouldn’t be a complete disaster if he came back as a backup center and guard (as with Linkenbach, he has the “versatility” to play multiple positions badly), but if someone gets hurt and he winds up pressed into duty again, the interior line will remain poor.

Here’s what McGlynn did on the last play of the Colts’ last drive before LeGarrette Blount’s 73-yard touchdown run and a quick interception by Luck ended Indy’s chances. If this was his last really meaningful play as a Colt, it was a sad but fitting conclusion:

 

RT Gosder Cherilus
Run blocks: 18/20, 90%
Pass blocks: 42/44, 95%, one pressure, one hit
Total: 60/64, 94%

11-game totals
Run blocks: 153/204, 75%
Pass blocks: 430/485, 89%, five sacks
Total: 583/689, 85%

After all the negativity I spewed above, it’s nice to finish the season on this Cherilus performance. His numbers are slightly inflated by the Patriots’ aforementioned strategy of holding Ninkovich back a bit to contain Luck. But he consistently frustrated any pass-rushing efforts Ninkovich (or anyone else) made on his side. After a couple ugly games in a row, he looked quick and strong in protection and even generated some push in the running game. It was the first time he cleared 78% in run blocks since he went 11/11 against the Cardinals in week 12. While he is who he is, and he’ll never be a great run blocker, it’s comforting to see him put up an occasional strong game.

Most heartwarming of all, Cherilus threw in a good cut block after weeks of awkwardly plopping himself at defenders’ feet:

Though my Castonzo-Cherilus switch idea is definitely a pipe dream, the Colts are about as settled as an NFL team gets these days at the tackle spots. Castonzo’s rookie contract runs through next year, so Ryan Grigson can concentrate his attention in the coming months on repairing the inside of the line.


As I said earlier, Fleener went an underwhelming 8/15 on run blocks. He was 3/4 on pass blocks and gave up a hit. Doyle went 5/7 on run blocks and 2/2 on pass blocks, and Weslye Saunders went 3/4, all on run blocks. My guess is Fleener, Allen, and Doyle are the tight ends next year, though Saunders could stick if they keep a fourth.

Brown, as also stated above, was 6/9 on pass blocks and allowed two hits and a sack. Richardson was 6/7 and gave up a hit.

Stanley Havili had a decent day, aside from his bobbled ball that led to an interception. He was on 2/3 run blocks and 2/2 on pass blocks.

Xavier Nixon and Ricardo Mathews came in for one running play. Nixon completed his block, while Mathews missed his.

 

So the Colts’ season draws to a close, and with it my weekly offensive line write-ups. I’ve had a great time doing this, and I’ve really appreciated the feedback from you readers. It’s tremendously rewarding to write for such a well-informed and thoughtful audience. Thank you for all of your insightful comments, tweets, and shout-outs on other forums. I truly have enjoyed being your offensive line analyst.

Editor's note: Don't be heartbroken just yet… we may have more Ben on the way during the offseason. Stay tuned!- KJR


Play

Castonzo

Thornton

Linkenbach

Satele

McGlynn

Cherilus

Doyle 7 pass

+

+


 

+

+

+

Brown 1 run

+

-


 

-

-

+

Interception

+

+


 

+

+

+

Drive total

3/3

2/3

 

2/3

2/3

3/3

Brown 2 run

-

+


 

+

Pulls, +

+

Incomplete

Gives up hit

Gives up pressure


 

+

/

+

Hilton 1 pass

+

+


 

+

+

+

Drive total

1/3

2/3

 

3/3

2/2

3/3

Brown 7 run

+

+


 

+

+

+

Incomplete

Gives up pressure

+


 

+

+

+

Fleener 9 pass

+

+


 

+

+

+

Brown 4 run

+

-


 

+

-

+

Incomplete

+

+


 

+

+

+

Whalen 22 pass

Gives up hit

+


 

+

+

+

Brazill 38 TD pass

+

Pulls, +


 

+

+

+

Drive total

5/7

6/7

 

7/7

6/7

7/7

Incomplete

+

+


 

+

+

+

Richardson 2 run

+

-


 

2nd level, -

-

+

Incomplete

+

+


 

+

+

+

Drive total

3/3

2/3

 

2/3

2/3

3/3

Brown 3 run

+

+


 

+

+

+

Fleener 29 pass

+

+


 

+

+

+

Brown 7 run

+

+


 

+

+

+

Luck 5 scramble

+

Pulls, +


 

+

+

+

Brown 2 run

+

-


 

-

+

+

Brown 3 pass

+

+


 

+

+

+

Whalen 9 pass

+

+


 

+

+

+

Havili 4 pass

+

+


 

+

+

+

Brown 0 run

+

2nd level, -


 

+

+

-

Incomplete

+

+


 

+

+

/

Drive total

10/10

8/10

 

9/10

10/10

8/9

Incomplete

+

+


 

+

+

Gives up hit

Brown 0 run

+

Pulls, -


 

Pulls, -

-

+

Hilton 16 pass

+

+


 

+

+

+

Incomplete

+

+


 

/

2nd level, +

+

Whalen 17 pass

+

+


 

+

+

+

Interception

+

+


 

+

+

+

Drive total

6/6

5/6

 

4/5

5/6

5/6

Brown 2 run

+

+


 

2nd level, +

-

+

Drive total

1/1

1/1

 

1/1

0/1

1/1

Brown 3 run

+

+


 

2nd level, -

+

+

Incomplete

Gives up pressure

Gives up hit


 

+

Gives up hit

+

Hilton 40 pass

+

+


 

+

Pulls, +

Gives up pressure

Fleener 16 pass

+

+


 

+

+

+

Brown 1 run

+

+


 

+

+

-

Richardson 0 run

+

Pulls, -


 

+

+

+

Incomplete

+

+


 

+

+

+

Drive total

6/7

5/7

 

6/7

6/7

5/7

Richardson -1 run

+

Pulls, +


 

-

+

+

Hilton 46 pass

Gives up hit

+


 

+

+

+

Brazill 35 TD pass

+

Pulls, +


 

+

+

+

Drive total

2/3

3/3

 

2/3

3/3

3/3

Brown 2 run

-

-


 

-

+

+

-8 sack

-

+


 

-

+

+

Incomplete

+

+


 

+

+

+

Drive total

1/3

2/3

 

1/3

3/3

3/3

Brown 4 run

+

+


 

2nd level, -

+

+

Brown 8 run

+

2nd level, -


 

+

+

+

Brown 1 run

+

Pulls, +


 

+

-

+

-1 sack

+

+


 

+

+

+

Incomplete

+

+


 

+

Gives up pressure

+

Drive total

5/5

4/5

 

4/5

3/5

5/5

Interception

+

+


 

+

+

+

Drive total

1/1

1/1

 

1/1

1/1

1/1

Fleener 9 pass

+


 

+

+

+

+

Incomplete

+


 

+

+

+

+

Incomplete

+


 

+

+

+

+

Drive total

3/3

 

3/3

3/3

3/3

3/3

Incomplete

+


 

+

+

Gives up hit

+

Fleener 8 pass

+


 

+

/

/

+

Fleener 3 pass

+


 

+

+

+

+

Whalen 9 pass

-


 

+

+

+

+

Incomplete

+


 

+

+

+

+

-5 sack

+


 

Gives up sack

+

+

+

Whalen 10 pass

+


 

+

/

+

+

Incomplete

Gives up hit


 

+

+

Gives up hit

+

Brown 16 run

+


 

Pulls, +

+

2nd level, +

2nd level, +

Interception

+


 

+

+

+

+

Drive total

8/10

 

9/10

8/8

7/9

10/10


 

Castonzo

Thornton

Linkenbach

Satele

McGlynn

Cherilus

Run total

18/20

10/19

1/1

12/20

14/20

18/20

Run percentage

90

53

100

60

70

90

Pass total

37/45

31/33

11/12

41/42

39/43

42/44

Pass percentage

82

94

92

98

91

95

Pressures

2

1

0

0

1

1

Hits

4

1

0

0

3

1

Sacks

0

0

1

0

0

0

Grand total

55/65

41/52

12/13

53/62

53/63

60/64

Grand total percentage

85

79

92

85

84

94

 

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