Charting the Colts’ Offensive Line: Preseason Week 1

Welcome back to my favorite part of football blogging: charting blocks!

After spending the offseason wandering through the dregs of the Colts’ roster, I’m diving back into offensive line play. If you’re reading this, you’re probably my favorite kind of football nerd, meaning I don’t need to explain to you how important blocking is. And anyway, I prefer to show rather than tell. So I won’t waste too many words up here, aside from some necessary explanation. But I’m excited to get back to it and watch people other than Samikeff McLinkenbele.

(Shameless plug: If you want to read more of my thoughts on the departures of McLinkenbele, as well as tons of other outstanding Colts writing by our fine staff, compiled in aesthetically pleasing fashion by Josh Boeke, buy the CA Annual!)

As we get back into the swing of things, I’ll be working in some new stats this preseason. Here are the most important new ideas for now. If you’re dying to know how Ulrick John did in his nine snaps or something, feel free to skip ahead and come back to this later.

  • Gap blocks: I owe regular CA commenter paulcareyjr for the idea on this one. This year, I’ll be marking when a run goes through the gap to a lineman’s left or right and tracking how the offense does when running next to that player. Unfortunately, running plays tend to be chaotic. It’s rarely as clean as saying, “Trent Richardson ran through the left B gap between Anthony Castonzo and Jack Mewhort.” It’s more often something like, “Richardson was supposed to go between Thornton and Cherilus, but he cut back to the left side, where he passed next to Castonzo, while Mewhort was blocking at the second level, Holmes pushed his man to the right, and Thornton ended up following his man past Holmes to the left.” I’m still ironing out the kinks, so as with all of my numbers, take these with a grain of salt. Also keep in mind that a good gap block is easily thwarted by a bad block on the other side. But combining the gap block completion percentage with the average yards gained and success percentage should give us a decent idea of how effective the linemen are at sealing running lanes.
  • Lead blocks: These happen when a player, typically a fullback or pulling lineman, moves forward between two other blockers to block for a run. They’re much more straightforward than gap blocks. Note that a player still gets credit for a lead block and the related yardage even if the back doesn’t end up following the block, so the yardage and success numbers are more a reflection of how the whole play goes, while the lead block completion percentage focuses on the blocks themselves.
  • Success percentage: This is a measure of how often a run succeeds in keeping the offense moving. I’ll be using the widely accepted 40-60-100 standard, according to which a run is considered successful if it gains 40% of the necessary yards for a first down (or touchdown) on first down, 60% on second down and 100% on third or fourth down. (You can also see in my charting table that I’m tracking success on passing plays; I use a 45-60-100 standard there. Both are simplified versions of Football Outsiders’ formulae.)

I plan to introduce some more stats later, but there’s no All-22 film for preseason games, so some of them will have to wait. For all blocks this year, I’ll once again be marking them as good, bad or not involved; “not involved” blocks usually mean the player couldn’t find anyone to block and are not included in totals. The basic block types are run, pass and screen (I’m separating screen blocks this year after combining them with pass blocks last season). I said this many times last year, and I’ll be repeating it often: grading blocks is inevitably subjective, since I can’t know the players’ assignments or how they’re coached. These figures represent my best efforts at figuring out what the lineman was supposed to do and whether he did it successfully. I don’t claim to have any special knowledge about the Colts’ schemes.

On to the good stuff. I tracked all of the offensive linemen, but because it’s the preseason, I only charted the front-line skill players – plus Mario Harvey, because I was curious about him. My table is at the bottom of the post.

LT Anthony Castonzo
Run blocks: 4/5, 80%
Gap blocks: 3/3, 100%, 11 yards, 3.7 avg., 33% success
Pass blocks: 6/6, 100%
Total: 10/11, 91%

This was a Good Castonzo performance. He messed up on one run block and let the defender get under him, but otherwise he did everything right. As long as he’s not matched up with someone like Robert Quinn or Tamba Hali, Castonzo is a good left tackle. We didn’t learn anything new about him on Thursday, except that he can, in fact, fit all that hair under a helmet.

LG Jack Mewhort
Run blocks: 4/9, 44%
Gap blocks: 2/3, 67%, 8 yards, 2.7 avg., 33% success
Lead blocks: 1/4, 25%, 7 yards, 1.8 avg., 25% success
Screen blocks: 0/1, 6 yards
Pass blocks: 10/11, 91%
Total: 14/21, 67%

A mixed bag for the suddenly vital rookie. Sheldon Richardson bullied him back into the pocket on his second snap, but otherwise he held up in pass protection. And who hasn’t been bullied by Richardson at some point?

I have grave concerns for the Colts’ running game this season, and they begin with Mewhort’s pulling. Pep Hamilton loves pulling his left guard and running to the right. Mewhort did not look good on his four pull blocks against the Jets. He appears stiff in the hips and slow to lock onto a defender in space. Watch him fail to adjust to a slight shift in the defender’s path here: Mewhiff

(Sorry for the text on the screen. Apparently the NFL’s video people are also in preseason mode.)

Hey Pep, you know who’s better at pulling than Mewhort? Hugh Thornton. You know who’s a better run blocker than Gosder Cherilus? Anthony Castonzo. Do you realize that on Thursday night you ran right 13 times for 14 yards and left 11 times for 45 yards? Maybe try flipping that Power O you love so much over to the left side a bit? Bah, never mind.

On the bright side, Mewhort has some Good Castonzo in him when it comes to pass protection. Watch how eerily similar he and Castonzo look setting up for this pass:

Twinsies

Mewhort was known more for his run blocking than his pass blocking at Ohio State, so I suspect he’ll come around in that area. And he looked better when blocking in-line, going 3-for-5. If he can keep Andrew Luck clean, many sins will be forgiven.

C Khaled Holmes
Run blocks: 2/2, 100%
Gap blocks: 2/2, 100%, 12 yards, 6.0 avg., 100% success
Pass blocks: 4/5, 80%, 1 hit
Total: 6/7, 86%

Deep sigh. It’s still hard to know what to think of Holmes. He’s always looked good when he’s been on the field, but that just doesn’t happen very often. His reputation this preseason has been “good athlete, mediocre run blocker,” but he looked excellent against the Jets on his two run blocks. Then he sprained his ankle. Again. The good news: he’ll only be out two or three weeks. The bad news: the center position remains in flux. [Fighting the urge to take a potshot at Samson Satele.]

RG Hugh Thornton
Run blocks: 5/7, 71%
Gap blocks: 1/2, 50%, 5 yards, 2.5 avg., 50% success
Lead blocks: 0/1, 3 yards, 3.0 avg., 0% success
Pass blocks: 10/11, 91%, 1 pressure
Total: 15/18, 83%

The early returns suggest modest improvement from Thornton’s 67% run blocking and 88% pass blocking last year. He looked fine on his handful of snaps. You can see him giving his typical extra effort even when he screws up in the second Mewhort GIF above.

Thornton is flipping from left guard to right this year. Right guard is the more difficult position, since most protection schemes leave the right guard in isolation more often, while the left guard usually has help (Ross Tucker discusses that, and several other interesting aspects of line play, here). I have a hunch Thornton will do well in his new role. It might seem counterintuitive, but a more difficult, individual assignment should suit his skill set better than a job that involves working in tandem with the left tackle and center. He and Castonzo never developed great chemistry, and this season he’ll be playing next to Cherilus, another lone wolf-type who does better when he can focus on a single defender. Thornton never lacks for aggressive individual effort.

RT Gosder Cherilus
Run blocks: 3/5, 60%
Pass blocks: 4/5, 80%, 1 hit
Total: 7/10, 70%

Cherilus didn’t play much and didn’t look particularly good. That will come as no surprise to those who have watched him carefully. For a guy with a reputation as a locker room leader, he sure seems to have a hard time getting motivated. He’ll muddle his way through the preseason before cranking it up to his standard B-/B level for the regular season. I shouldn’t be too harsh; Cherilus isn’t a bad player. He’s just overpaid and not as good as he should be, given his talents.

C Jonotthan Harrison
Run blocks: 12/16, 75%
Gap blocks: 2/3, 67%, 5 yards, 1.7 avg., 33% success
Screen blocks: 0/1, 6 yards
Pass blocks: 20/24, 83%, 1 pressure, 1 sack
Total: 32/41, 78%

Samson Satele had the three best center run-blocking games of 2013 in my charting, going 13/15 (87%) against Denver, 15/19 (79%) against Tennessee and 10/13 (77%) against Kansas City. Mike McGlynn, the backup center, never went above 67%. Harrison’s 75% in this game would have been the fourth-best by a Colts center last season. Much of that came against backups, but it’s yet another indication that Satele and McGlynn were holding this line back.

That’s not to say Harrison was particularly impressive. His missed run blocks included getting rocked backwards by the Jets’ Damon Harrison on this play:
Harrisonback

Harrison is not quick on his feet, and his pass blocking leaves something to be desired. He was pushed into the pocket a number of times, like so:

2

But he also had some promising moments, such as this pancake (with a little help from Josh Walker):

Harrison pancake

Harrison could certainly develop into a functional center. He’s strong, aggressive, and, most importantly, alert. [Still fighting the urge to take potshots at Satele.] Even if Holmes can’t stay healthy, the Colts should be in better shape at center than they were last year.

LT Ulrick John
Run blocks: 3/3, 100%
Gap blocks: 1/1, 100%, 5 yards, 5.0 avg., 100% success
Pass blocks: 3/3, 100%
Total: 6/6, 100%

The raw rookie played only nine snaps before falling victim to the Colts’ raging injury bug. And that’s a shame, because he was killing it. Nothing too flashy, just quiet productivity. He looked like a worthwhile project player. Early reports are that he has a broken ankle, so he’s likely looking at a lost season.

RT/LT Joe Reitz
Run blocks: 12/15, 80%
Gap blocks: 3/4, 75%, 5 yards, 1.3 avg., 25% success
Pass blocks: 24/25, 96%, 1 pressure
Total: 36/40, 90%

WHY THE EFF DOESN’T REITZ PLAY MORE?????

Excuse me.

Reitz’s gap block numbers are a little low because of some blown blocks on the other side of his gaps. He looked more comfortable run blocking than he did last year (though, of course, it was against backups in a preseason game), and he turned in a near-flawless performance in pass protection, as he usually does. If I had even a little clout with the Colts, Reitz would be starting at left guard. Yet he continues to languish with the second unit. What a waste.

RG Lance Louis
Run blocks: 5/11, 45%
Gap blocks: 1/4, 25%, 3 yards, 0.8 avg., 25% success
Lead blocks: 0/1, 2 yards, 2.0 avg., 0% success
Screen blocks: 1/1, 100%, 6 yards
Pass blocks: 16/17, 94%, 1 sack
Total: 22/29, 76%

Louis has been getting some first-team reps at left guard in the wake of Holmes’ injury. As I wrote in my offseason review of Louis, he’s a good pass blocker, and he showed that against the Jets. But his run blocking wasn’t great. While he didn’t stand out much in this game, he has enough talent to merit an extended look.

RT Matt Hall
Run blocks: 11/16, 69%
Gap blocks: 3/5, 60%, 5 yards, 1.0 avg., 0% success
Pass blocks: 19/23, 83%, 4 pressures
Total: 30/39, 77%

Hall’s performance screams “training camp fodder.”

LG/LT Josh Walker
Run blocks: 13/15, 87%
Gap blocks: 3/3, 100%, 14 yards, 4.7 avg., 33% success
Pass blocks: 18/21, 86%, 1 pressure, 1 hit, 1 sack
Total: 31/36, 86%

Walker was my favorite no-name reserve. He had a few issues in pass blocking, but his run blocking was as good as anyone’s. Keep an eye out for No. 79. He’s my early pick for our OL roster surprise of the year.

RG Chad Anderson
Run blocks: 2/6, 33%
Gap blocks: 0/2, 8 yards, 4.0 avg., 0% success
Pass blocks: 5/5, 100%
Total: 7/11, 64%

Anderson was cut after the game. He was fine in pass blocking, but run blocks like this one earned him a pink slip:

Anderson

C FN Lutz
Run blocks: 6/6, 100%
Pass blocks: 4/5, 80%, 1 pressure
Total: 10/11, 91%

Not FN bad.

Sorry. I had to. (If you’ve been living under a rock and missed one of the most exciting developments of the Colts’ offseason, Lutz’s first name is pronounced “effin.”)

We didn’t see much of Lutz, but he looked pretty FN good. The rash of injuries on the interior offensive line gives him a real, albeit small, chance at making the roster. He’s also a practice squad possibility. I really, really, really want him to stick around in some form. Because, you know, he seems like a good guy. A good FN guy, if you will.

LG Eric Pike
Run blocks: 2/4, 50%
Gap blocks: 0/1, 0 yards, 0 avg., 0% success
Lead blocks: 1/1, 100%, 8 yards, 8.0 avg., 0% success
Pass blocks: 3/3, 100%
Total: 5/7, 71%

He played a bit a the end of the game. More nondescript training camp fodder.

And the skill guys:

  • Coby Fleener is still an atrocious run blocker. He had ugly misses on both of his attempts. Luckily, Dwayne Allen’s return should mean he doesn’t have to do it much. Fleener also messed up his one screen block and didn’t attempt a pass block.
  • Dwayne Allen was 4/5 on run blocks, including 1/1 on a gap block that lost two yards through no fault of his. He completed his one pass block. Welcome back, sir.
  • T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks both missed their lone attempted run blocks. It’s preseason, after all.
  • Trent Richardson was successful on his one pass block.
  • Mario Harvey went 3/5 on run blocks, including 0/1 on a gap block that lost a yard and 3/4 on lead blocks for 8 yards (2.0 avg.) and 25% success. He completed his one pass block. There wasn’t much to get excited about.

Here’s my charting table. Green means good, red means bad, and yellow means not involved. Screen Shot 2014-08-10 at 1.42.15 PM

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