Aug 16, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) drops back to pass under the protection of guard Hugh Thorton (69) in the first half against the New York Giants in their pre season game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

Charting the Colts’ Offensive Line: Preseason Week 2

The Colts’ offense appears to be on the cusp of breaking through. Five first-team drives in two preseason games have generated 13 points, a middling figure, but three of the four drives that started in the Colts’ half have reached their opponents’ territory (one began in the Giants’ half after a turnover).

Aside from that running back who makes everyone grumpy, the biggest impediment to offensive success in Indianapolis is, once again, the offensive line. The Colts still can’t run block. Through two games, I have their offensive linemen at 171/251 (68%) in run blocking, which is a shade below their 70% last year. Their running backs have a 27% success rate, using the 40-60-100 standard (an average back is typically around 45%). Meanwhile, the pass protection took a step back against a Giants front that blitzed them heavily. By my count, they gave up a pressure every 12.6 pass blocks, after allowing one every 18.2 last week.

Reinforcements should be on the way, as rookie guard Jack Mewhort returned to practice this week and center Khaled Holmes is expected to be ready for the regular season. And Jonotthan Harrison and Hugh Thornton have room to grow. But unless the run blocking picks up in a hurry, Indy’s offense might once again be held back by the men up front. It’s a sobering thought after two painful years of atrocious blocking, but unlike the past two years, the line has multiple high-ceiling prospects who could turn things around in a hurry.

Standard disclaimer: charting offensive line play is inevitably subjective, since I can’t know the players’ assignments or how they’re coached. The figures below represent my best efforts at figuring out what the linemen were supposed to do and whether they did it successfully. See last week’s post for an explanation of some of the terminology here.

LT Anthony Castonzo
Run blocks: 7/10, 70%
Gap blocks: 1/3, 33%, 3 yards, 1.0 avg., 0% success
Pass blocks: 18/20, 90%
Total: 25/30, 83%

Preseason totals
Run blocks: 11/15, 73%
Gap blocks: 4/6, 67%, 14 yards, 2.3 avg., 17% success
Pass blocks: 24/26, 92%
Total: 35/41, 85%

Castonzo didn’t have his best night. Jason Pierre-Paul and Robert Ayers gave him some trouble in both phases. He also had a couple uncharacteristic whiffs in the open field, like this one:

CastonzoMiss

Castonzo’s run blocking in general was not up to his usual standards, which is disconcerting, since he’s easily the team’s best run blocker. But hey, it’s preseason. Castonzo will be fine. Maybe he was just getting one of those Bad Castonzo performances out of the way early.

LG Lance Louis
Run blocks: 7/11, 64%
Gap blocks: 4/6, 67%, 15 yards, 2.5 avg., 33% success
Lead blocks: 1/1, 100%, 5 yards, 5.0 avg., 100% success
Screen blocks: 0/1, 9 yards, 9.0 avg.
Pass blocks: 29/35, 83%, 2 pressures, 1 hit
Total: 36/47, 77%

Preseason totals
Run blocks: 12/22, 55%
Gap blocks: 5/10, 50%, 18 yards, 1.8 avg., 30% success
Lead blocks: 1/2, 50%, 7 yards, 3.5 avg., 50% success
Screen blocks: 1/2, 50%, 15 yards, 7.5 avg.
Pass blocks: 45/52, 87%, two pressures, 1 hit, 1 sack
Total: 58/76, 76%

Louis replaced Mewhort in the starting lineup at left guard. Facing mostly first-teamers after taking on backups the week before, he held his own. His pass blocking percentage was down somewhat, from 94% (16/17) in the Jets game to 83% (29/35) against the Giants. Otherwise, he showed modest improvement across the board. He laid a nice pull block on this 5-yard run:

LancePull

(That was one of the Colts’ best run blocking plays of the preseason. The linemen all do good work. Pay no attention to Coby Fleener.)

As I wrote last week, Mewhort didn’t look good when pulling against the Jets. Louis definitely has an advantage there; he’s remarkably quick-footed for such a big guy and adjusts well to defenders in space. Oddly, the Colts only ran behind a Louis pull block once on 11 running plays with him in the game.

Even after tearing his ACL a couple years ago, Louis has plenty of athleticism. When he has problems, they’re often a result of poor positioning. Notice how far his lower half is from Ayers here:

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Louis has taken too deep a drop and timed his punch poorly, forcing him to bend at the waist to reach Ayers’ chest. Ayers easily swatted Louis’ arms aside and broke through for a hit on Hasselbeck.

The good news is that positioning can be taught, while athleticism can’t. The bad news is that Louis is 29. He might turn out to be a late bloomer whose development was merely sidetracked by that ACL tear. Or this might be who he is. Even if the latter turns out to be the case, he has enough skills to be useful, and if he steps in for Mewhort again, playing next to Castonzo should protect him to some extent.

C Jonotthan Harrison
Run blocks: 9/11, 82%
Gap blocks: 1/2, 50%, 1 yard, 0.5 avg., 50% success
Lead blocks: 0/1, -1 yard, -1.0 avg., 0% success
Pass blocks: 34/36, 94%, 2 pressures
Total: 43/47, 91%

Preseason totals
Run blocks: 21/27, 78%
Gap blocks: 3/5, 60%, 6 yards, 1.2 avg., 40% success
Lead blocks: 0/1, -1 yard, -1.0 avg., 0% success
Screen blocks: 0/1, 6 yards, 6.0 avg.
Pass blocks: 54/60, 90%, 3 pressures, 1 sack
Total: 75/88, 85%

It’s officially time to get excited about Jonotthan Harrison. Not too excited, mind you. He’s not making the Pro Bowl or anything. But the Samson Satele era set the bar so low that even basic competence is a breath of fresh air.

Remember this? (Keep an eye on No. 64 in the middle.)

Week12OLa

Now watch this:

HarrisonBam

Like Satele in that first GIF, Harrison doesn’t have anyone to block at first. Unlike Satele, he stays on his toes, spots a guy coming on a stunt, and helps block him. It’s a basic center skill, but it’s been missing in Indianapolis since Jeff Saturday left town. Center is by far the easiest pass blocking position, and Harrison should hold up well despite limited quickness. As long as he keeps paying attention.

Harrison has also been aggressive in the running game. He sometimes gets too enthusiastic and stumbles – he isn’t close to Holmes’ athleticism – but that nasty streak everybody was talking about when the Colts signed him as an undrafted free agent out of Florida is a real thing. You can see hints of it in that Louis GIF above. As he gets comfortable, Harrison could become a real mauler.

Again, don’t expect Harrison to be elite right away. He was so-so in the first preseason game, and he’s still a rookie, so he’s bound to take some lumps if he does end up playing regularly. But he looks like a keeper.

RG Hugh Thornton
Run blocks: 8/11, 73%
Gap blocks: 2/3, 67%, 5 yards, 1.7 avg., 33% success
Lead blocks: 2/3, 67%, 9 yards, 3.0 avg., 33% success
Pass blocks: 30/34, 88%, 1 pressure
Total: 38/45, 84%

Preseason totals
Run blocks: 13/18, 72%
Gap blocks: 3/5, 60%, 10 yards, 2.0 avg., 40% success
Lead blocks: 2/4, 50%, 12 yards, 3.0 avg., 25% success
Pass blocks: 40/45, 89%, 2 pressures
Total: 53/63, 84%

Thornton played more than twice as many snaps as the week before and was at roughly the same level. These preseason games are important for him, as he adjusts to playing on the right side and continues to refine his technique. He’ll play plenty of snaps in the second half of the preseason, and he should continue to improve.

He supplied some hilarity early on against the Giants, knocking an unsuspecting defender on his butt with his trademark aggression:

HughDowns

Thornton always plays hard and knows how to use his considerable power. His biggest task remains cleaning up his mental lapses. He’s no Satele, but he sometimes gets caught doing something foolish.

RT Gosder Cherilus
Run blocks: 8/10, 80%
Gap blocks: 2/2, 100%, 13 yards, 6.5 avg., 100% success
Pass blocks: 15/20, 75%, 4 pressures, 1 hit
Total: 23/30, 77%

Preseason totals
Run blocks: 11/15, 73%
Gap blocks: 2/2, 100%, 13 yards, 6.5 avg., 100% success
Pass blocks: 19/25, 76%, 4 pressures, 2 hits
Total: 29/40, 73%

It was an odd night for Cherilus. After barely looking interested in run blocking against the Jets, he put together a fine performance and was the first unit’s best run blocker. Yet he was repeatedly beaten in the pass rush. Mathias Kiwanuka in particular seemed to bother him, which isn’t too surprising; at 6’5″, Kiwanuka is the type of long-limbed defender who often gives Cherilus fits.

As with Castonzo, we’re not going to learn much about Cherilus in the preseason. But if he can run block at the level he showed against the Giants, it will be a pleasant surprise.

LT Joe Reitz
Run blocks: 6/8, 75%
Gap blocks: 2/4, 50%, 13 yards, 3.3 avg., 25% success
Pass blocks: 17/21, 81%, 4 pressures
Total: 23/29, 79%

Preseason totals
Run blocks: 18/23, 78%
Gap blocks: 5/8, 63%, 18 yards, 2.3 avg., 25% success
Pass blocks: 41/46, 89%, 5 pressures
Total: 59/69, 86%

Oof. The Joe Reitz Fan Club, of which Kyle and I are card-carrying members, was hurting on Saturday. In fairness, Reitz played all 30 of his snaps at left tackle. I’ve always liked him as a guard, but when he’s facing edge rushers on the outside of the formation, his athleticism doesn’t stand out as much. He did put in some of the line’s better run blocking, and he showed off his movement skills by going 3/3 at the second level (by the way, the Colts’ offensive linemen are 24/37, or 65%, blocking at the second level, after completing 58% last year – a promising sign). But Reitz was repeatedly pushed into the pocket:

2

Or flat-out burned:

3

It wasn’t a good day to be a Reitz supporter. Let’s just move on.

RT Matt Hall
Run blocks: 9/16, 56%
Gap blocks: 1/4, 25%, 1 yard, 0.3 avg., 0% success
Pass blocks: 30/42, 71%, 7 pressures, 2 hits
Total: 39/58, 67%

Preseason totals
Run blocks: 20/32, 63%
Gap blocks: 4/9, 44%, 6 yards, 0.7 avg., 0% success
Pass blocks: 49/65, 75%, 11 pressures, 2 hits
Total: 69/97, 71%

Speaking of not-good days, Hall was not good. As Kyle noted earlier this week, through two preseason games, Hall has the league’s lowest Pro Football Focus grade among tackles. He looks the part, at 6’9″, 326 lbs., but he doesn’t move well enough to compete at this level. His run blocking is representative of the line’s overall struggles: on nine runs through the gaps to his left and right, running backs have averaged 0.7 yards and have yet to have a successful run. If the Colts hadn’t had so many linemen go down with injuries, Hall would probably be gone already.

C/RG Travis Austin
Run blocks: 8/16, 50%
Gap blocks: 2/5, 40%, 5 yards, 1.0 avg., 20% success
Lead blocks: 0/1, 1 yard, 1.0 avg., 0% success
Screen blocks: 1/3, 33%, 22 yards, 7.3 avg.
Pass blocks: 19/20, 95%
Total: 28/39, 72%

Austin, who spent time on the Colts’ practice squad in 2013 and has been on and off the roster this year, was signed off the street when Khaled Holmes got hurt to provide another body at center. He also played a bit of guard. There’s not much else to say; he was steady in pass protection, but he didn’t impress in the running game.

LG Marcus Hall
Run blocks: 10/16, 63%
Gap blocks: 3/5, 60%, 2 yards, 0.4 avg., 20% success
Lead blocks: 0/1, -2 yards, -2.0 avg., 0% success
Screen blocks: 1/1, 100%, 10 yards, 10.0 avg.
Pass blocks: 20/21, 95%, 1 hit
Total: 31/38, 82%

Hall also signed after the first preseason game, and like Austin, he underwhelmed. And by daring to share a large part of his name with Matt Hall, he messed up my charting book. So there’s that.

RG/LT Josh Walker
Run blocks: 8/13, 62%
Gap blocks: 2/5, 40%, -3 yards, -0.6 avg., 0% success
Lead blocks: 1/1, 100%, 6 yards, 6.0 avg., 100% success
Pass blocks: 18/25, 72%, 2 pressures, 2 hits, 2 sacks
Total: 26/38, 68%

Preseason totals
Run blocks: 21/28, 75%
Gap blocks: 5/8, 63%, 11 yards, 1.4 avg., 13% success
Lead blocks: 1/1, 100%, 6 yards, 6.0 avg., 100% success
Pass blocks: 36/46, 78%, 3 pressures, 3 hits, 2 sacks
Total: 57/74, 77%

Some jerk called Walker his “early pick for our OL roster surprise of the year” last week. Oops. Walker came crashing back down after playing well against the Jets. He struggled mightily in both phases, repeatedly allowing the Giants’ ends to turn the corner:

4

5

On a more positive note, Walker was 6/7 in run blocking and 4/5 in pass blocking at right guard (he was 2/6 in the run game and 14/20 in pass protection at left tackle). So he is not a left tackle. But when he plays inside, he can do things like this:

WalkerRanging

I’m not giving up on him yet.

C FN Lutz
Run blocks: 6/8, 75%
Screen blocks: 2/3, 67%, 22 yards, 7.3 avg.
Pass blocks: 12/15, 80%, 1 pressure
Total: 20/26, 77%

Preseason totals
Run blocks: 12/14, 86%
Screen blocks: 2/3, 67%, 22 yards, 7.3 avg.
Pass blocks: 16/20, 80%, 2 pressures
Total: 30/37, 81%

Lutz was pedestrian. He’s not a bad center, but a lack of functional strength will likely doom him to the waiver wire. It’s an FN shame.
Also, UDFA defensive end Tyler Hoover played one snap at left tackle and completed a run block on the play on which Phillip Tanner fumbled.
Since it’s the preseason, and since the wide receivers proved in the Jets game that they’re not going to block very hard when the games don’t count, I only tracked the tight ends and running backs, and I focused on the front-line guys. Based on my casual viewing (and their PFF grades), Weslye Saunders and fullback Cameron White were pretty bad, while Jack Doyle was decent. Here are the guys I tracked:

  • Dwayne Allen was just OK, going 6/9 in run blocks. He was 2/4 on gap blocks that gained 12 yards (3.0 avg.) with 50% success and completed his one lead block, which gained 5 yards and was successful. He’s a beast when things go right, but he’s still shaking off the rust. While he hasn’t been great, he’s been better than most of the linemen.
  • Please, Pep, stop asking Coby Fleener to run block. Send him out on a decoy route or something. He’d be more useful drawing a defender away. Fleener was 1/4 on run blocks, missing his one gap block, which gained zero yards. He continues to be oddly effective in pass blocking, however; he was 2/3, though he did give up a pressure.
  • Trent Richardson still can’t gain yards, but he can pass block. He was 4/5 with one hit allowed.
  • Mario Harvey went 4/6 on run blocks, including 2/4 for 9 yards (2.3 avg.) and 25% success on lead blocks. It was a modest uptick from his first game, but if Stanley Havili gets healthy, Harvey probably doesn’t make the roster. Havili’s a much more explosive athlete. He also has the advantage of having played fullback far more than Harvey has. Harvey looks a little uncomfortable at times.

Here’s my charting table. As always, green means good, red means bad, and yellow means not involved.

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