Tale of the Tape: Colts Running Game and Downfield Blocking

Kyle Rodriguez breaks down the Colts ability to block for running backs down field, helping to break long runs.

For the first time all season, I was able to review a game where I looked forward to the outcome, and where the big plays didn’t have a “But,” added on to them. It was a great feeling. So, on to the film review.

This week, I focused on the run blocking, specifically the downfield blocking on the longer runs, as well as taking a broader look at the run blocking as a whole.

The Colts ran the ball 31 times for 206 yards. The official stats will tell you 34 for 203, but that includes three Dan Orlovsky kneel-downs for -3 yards. Of those 31 plays, six of them went for eight or more yards, so those are the plays we’ll specifically look at after the jump, along with a broad overview of the run blocking as well.

1-10-IND 20 (15:00) (Run formation) P.Garcon left end ran ob at IND 28 for 8 yards. Generally speaking, I’m not a big fan of end arounds, or reverses, or trick plays as a whole, but this one worked to perfection. The fake to Addai got the linebackers going the wrong way, and Garcon used his speed to get around the outside. The downfield blockers on the play were Anthony Castonzo and Jacob Tamme, who awkwardly tried to double team the nearest linebacker to Garcon while running full speed along side him.

It worked, kind of, but their momentum caused Garcon to run out-of-bounds. With a better block they probably could have gotten a couple more yards, but it served it’s purpose in allowing Garcon run down the sideline for eight untouched yards. (Jeff Saturday also ran downfield, but Garcon outran him and Saturday didn’t hit anyone)  

3-1-IND 24 (3:35) (Run formation) D.Carter right tackle to IND 34 for 10 yards (S.Smith; C.Finnegan). This was the first of two 3rd and short plays with this short yardage package, with the fullback and Carter in, both being successful. On this one, Jeff Linkenbach and Ryan Diem had great seal blocks on the edge of the line, while Brody Eldridge and Jerome Felton (FB) had great blocks on the outside to give Carter a big hole. Again, Saturday ran downfield, but couldn’t keep up with the play and had no effect.

1-10-IND 47 (1:11) D.Brown right guard to TEN 36 for 17 yards (J.Babineaux). This was a great example of the downfield blocking, as Anthony Castonzo and Joe Reitz had great blocks on the linebackers to spring the long run. The Titans are in the nickel, so there are only two linebackers near the line. At the snap, Reitz dove inside and opened up the hole, while Anthony Castonzo took the MLB McCarthy and rode him all the way down the field. Brown took the hole, broke one tackle, but tripped up, otherwise this could have gone for 30.

1-10-IND 20 (1:33) (Run formation) D.Brown up the middle pushed ob at TEN 41 for 39 yards (J.Babineaux). Another good downfield block by Castonzo on this play, as he leaves the defensive end for the fullback and goes for the middle linebacker (McCarthy), who he blocks 10 yards down the field. Meanwhile, Fulton cut blocks the defensive end (who makes a diving attempt at Brown) and inadvertently gets in the way of the outside linebacker as well. Brown sidesteps the DE, and takes advantage of Reitz’ great block inside (along with Castonzo occupying McCarthy’s personal space) for a 39 yard gallop.

2-8-TEN 39 (:29) (Shotgun) D.Brown right tackle to TEN 30 for 9 yards (C.McCarthy). On this play, the blocking wasn’t great, but Brown just cut back and outran the defense to the outside. Castonzo tried to get out and block McCarthy again, but because Brown cut it back, the angle just wasn’t right. Garcon did have a good block on the cornerback that allowed Brown to get eight yards.

1-10-IND 20 (3:43) (Run formation) D.Brown right tackle for 80 yards, TOUCHDOWN. This is the play I wanted to see, as it was one that we haven’t seen in a long time: a long “He… will… go… all… the… way!” type of run that just gets your blood pumping as a fan. Ian Eagle got so excited that his microphone started to fuzz out on the call.

On the run, an uncharacteristically bad block by Garcon allowed the initial penetration, with other defenders pouring in as Brown slowed down. As Brown reversed field, the key blocks came by Orlovsky and Joe Reitz (On who else? McCarthy). As Brown came around the corner and upfield, Reggie Wayne had a sufficient block on Cortland Finnegan to break Brown into the secondary. As Brown raced down the sideline, Jacob Tamme got in the way of Jordan Babineaux enough to where he couldn’t take the best angle at Brown, leading to his failed diving attempt and an easy stiff-arm on the falling safety. A fantastic effort by Brown, plus some key blocks by Orlovsky, Reitz, Wayne, and Tamme, which was made all the better by the image of Manning raising his fist in the air as Brown finally got his big home run.

As a whole, Anthony Castonzo impressed me with his downfield blocking, with his ability to get down the field and lay a body on somebody. His dominance of McCarthy on Brown’s 39 and 17 yard runs was especially impressive. Also, the blocking by the wide outs was what allowed some of those edge runs to get 10+ yards, as opposed to five or six.

In the run blocking as a whole, it seems that the left side of the line is better at down field blocking, as Castonzo and Reitz are pretty good at getting out on linebackers. The right side, on the other hand, didn’t get pushed backwards as much as the left side did. They were more consistent in their ability to get push on the line, but also were more prone to allowing quick penetration into the backfield. The left side was not getting as consistent of a push, but wasn’t allowing much penetration either.

Considering that the 3/5 of the line is either in their sophomore or rookie year, it leaves a lot to build on going into the future, especially if Ben Ijalana can contribute as expected.

Another key point to think about is the role of the fullback going into 2012. In my opinion, it has been very effective this year, especially with Ryan Mahaffey and Jerome Felton, both of whom have also shown an ability to catch the ball out the backfield. In the Titans game in particular, the Felton/Carter combo on short yardage was very effective, and Felton gave Brown the extra room to show off his speed (such as his 39 yard run). I’ve been tracking some interesting numbers on the running backs all season, and I’ll have another post up next week on the comparison of the three throughout the season.

Interesting to note: Football Outsider’s DVOA update for Week 15 came yesterday, with Donald Brown finally having enough carries to qualify. He now ranks 8th in DYAR (a comprehensive stat like yards), despite having the least amount of carries (by far) in the top 15. He is also first in the league in DVOA (more of an efficiency stat, like yards per carry), meaning that advanced stats agree with what most fans finally realized this week: Brown is a lot better than people gave him credit for at the beginning of the year. But, I’ll wait til next week to go deeper into that.

For now, enjoy the win, and look forward to Thursday’s game against the Houston Texans. Go Colts!

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.