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CA Charting Project: Reviewing free agent C Brian de la Puente

Most analysts have Brian de la Puente as this year’s second- or third-best free agent center, depending on how they feel about Evan Dietrich-Smith. For this, the second of a three-part series examining the top centers on the market, I put de la Puente under the microscope. I charted four of his games, including the ones Pro Football Focus rated as his best (week 11 vs. San Francisco) and worst (week 8 vs. Buffalo) and two that PFF graded as around his average (week 3 vs. Arizona and the divisional playoff game at Seattle).

Frankly, I wouldn’t touch de la Puente with a ten-foot pole.

He has some talent, does a few things well and has been a good player in the past. But from what I saw, he’d basically be Samson Satele again. He’s inconsistent, he’s lousy in run blocking and he has an occasional WTF is Brian de la Puente Thinking? moment (more on those later) – and, from the point of view of my own selfish convenience, WTFiBdlPT is a much more unwieldy acronym than WTFiSST.

While I want to see Satele gone as much as anyone, as Kyle recently wrote, that’s far from a sure thing. If it comes down to paying Satele $5 million for one more painful season or dropping a hefty multi-year deal on de la Puente, I’d take Satele.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go vomit.

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 lineman appeared to succeed in his assignments, based on his 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. See here for an explanation of my terminology.

 

Here’s my table from charting de la Puente’s performances:

 

And for comparison, here’s Satele’s table from my season overview:

 

For the most part, their percentages were surprisingly similar, which is not a good sign. De la Puente is definitely better on the move, but he gave up pressures much more frequently.

One number in de la Puente’s table sticks out like a sore thumb: he completed only eight of 21 run blocks, or 38%, against Buffalo. The Colts had plenty of bad run blocking performances in 2013; Satele and Gosder Cherilus both had two games in which they dipped below 50%. But not one Colts lineman was ever below 40%.

Bills tackle Kyle Williams beat the crap out of de la Puente, whether that meant blowing past him when he couldn’t close his gap quickly enough:

Or slipping his block before the running back could get past the line:

 

That game was a bit of an outlier, but de la Puente didn’t look impressive in run blocking in the other three games, either. In his best run blocking game, against Seattle, he lost his balance and fell down while trying to run block four times – not a good sign for a center with so-so strength. When he’s asked to knock a nose tackle out of the way, he has a hard time, as on this goal line block against the 49ers:

 

De la Puente does have decent athleticism. Aside from a 1/8 clunker against the Bills, he was 17/22 (77%) in second-level blocks, a percentage that would have led the 2013 Colts’ regulars. He does a nice job of taking a good angle to a linebacker or safety in space, locking onto him and positioning himself between the defender and the ball, as on this block in the Cardinals game:

Even if Satele was on rocket-powered roller skates, he would never get to a linebacker’s outside shoulder like that. De la Puente could be a big help with second-level blocking, a weakness in Indy’s 2013 line.

But on some plays, de la Puente looks disturbingly Satele-esque. For example, here the Cardinals are rushing five:

 

The Saints have seven guys in to block. So things should be OK.

A few moments later, it still looks like the Saints have the rush under control. Notice de la Puente standing in a gap, apparently ready to help in either direction:

 

As the protection starts collapsing on the left, de la Puente just keeps staring right, though the poorly called protection has left the right guard and right tackle on a single rusher, while everyone to his left is singled up and struggling:

 

The rush gets to Drew Brees for a nine-yard sack, and de la Puente is still blocking no one:

 

Here’s a similar play, from the Bills game. De la Puente is looking right rather than spotting Mario Williams coming around on a stunt:

 

The right side of the line is struggling, but rather than helping the guard, de la Puente looks back left:

 

By this time, it’s too late for him to get in Williams’ way. He ends up standing uselessly in the middle of the field, while three rushers close in on Brees (who, being Drew Brees, escapes the pocket and throws a 42-yard touchdown pass, but still):

 

PFF ranked de la Puente 16th among centers in 2013 (13th in pass blocking, 23rd in run blocking). By all reports, it was well below his usual standard of play; PFF had him second in the league in 2012, and from what I’ve read, he improved as the 2013 season went on.

But even in the San Francisco and Seattle games, he looked to me like a decent center, not a really good one. ESPN’s Mike Triplett thinks de la Puente will get something like the three-year, $10.9 million deal Jonathan Goodwin got from the 49ers a few years ago. As erratic as de la Puente was and as bad as he looked against the Bills and Cardinals, that number seems way too high. Two largely hideous games in a four-game sample is more than enough to scare me off. I’d give him half a season before Colts fans were every bit as annoyed with him as they have been with Satele for the past two years.

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