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Re-Examining Whether Starting Jonotthan Harrison is the Right Move for the Colts

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Ten games into the season, Stampede Blue's Josh Wilson takes a look at whether or not starting Jonotthan Harrison at center is the right move for the Colts.

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With the Colts' run defense playing terrible last weekend, the poor run game of the Colts' offensive line has taken a back seat when it comes to the criticism.  But the run game was awful against the Patriots.  In fact, the Colts ran for just 19 yards on 16 carries - and 15 of those yards came from quarterback Andrew Luck.

One of the more striking aspects of the game for the Colts' when watching the tape was how much center Jonotthan Harrison seemed to be pushed around.  And that led me to dive into the numbers a bit to see whether there was any correlation to Harrison and the run game in the stats.

Here are the Colts' rushing stats from the four games with A.Q. Shipley starting at center versus the six games with Jonotthan Harrison starting at center - and I even looked at the average rank of the run defenses faced (in terms of yards per game and through week eleven), and it's pretty even, with both centers facing a top-five run defense and both facing a bottom-two run defense.

A.Q. Shipley 4 122 472 3.87 2 118.00 19.5
Jonotthan Harrison 6 149 571 3.83 4 95.17 17.5

The stats seem pretty even, besides the rush yards per game.  In that category, the Colts were averaging 22.83 yards on the ground more per game with Shipley at center.  Of course, we have to realize that they were also averaging 5.67 more rush attempts per game as well with Shipley starting, so the yards per attempt is actually pretty close (just 0.04 yards per attempt more with Shipley at center).

So what about pass protection?  Here's a look at the simple sack stats:

A.Q. Shipley 4 5 1.25
Jonotthan Harrison 6 10 1.67

So the Colts have given up more sacks per game with Harrison at center, but of course that's a very, very inaccurate measure to look at how each of the two have done in pass protection, as obviously there's more that goes into those sack numbers than just the center.  So let's take a look at the Pro Football Focus grades for each.  Keep in mind that these are not stats and that these are not the end-all in the discussion, but for our purposes they can be a helpful addition to the analysis.

A.Q. Shipley 4 2.2 3.1 -0.6
Jonotthan Harrison 6 -7.5 -1.1 -1.9

So far we've seen that the Colts rush for more yards per game and give up fewer sacks per game with A.Q. Shipley at center than with Jonotthan Harrison at center, and PFF's grades make the difference between the two centers individually much greater.

Against the New England Patriots, I think we saw pretty clearly Jonotthan Harrison's struggles.  In addition to forgetting the snap count on one play (when everyone else went on the play but Harrison just didn't snap the football), he was pushed around a lot.

Here's an example in pass protection.  If you're unfamiliar with the slider tool, start by moving the bar to the left side of the screen and then going to the right.  In the first picture (with the slider bar on the left), Jonotthan Harrison is engaged in pass protection.  In the second picture, however (with the slider bar on the right), Harrison has been beaten badly on his block.  Andrew Luck makes a play, avoids the rush, and scrambles for a nice pickup, but it was all due to a missed block by Harrison.

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Furthermore, here's another quick picture of a situation in which Luck was forced to throw with pressure in his face due to Harrison getting beat.


And let's not ignore the run game, either.  Again we're using the slider tool, and this time the first picture shows Jonotthan Harrison getting beat on a run block.  Trent Richardson has just received the handoff and a defender is already in the backfield, having beaten Harrison.  Richardson actually makes a nice play and makes the defender miss, but by this time Harrison has turned around fully to see where the guy he whiffed on has gone.  As such, he stands right in the way of Richardson, and Harrison should have been credited with a tackle assist on the play.

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Are these plays the end-all?  Of course not, as they're just a few plays in one game.  But we've looked at the stats, the PFF grades, and the film - the one thing left is the eye test.  And in this category, we also must give the nod to A.Q. Shipley.  I think he looked much better than Harrison has.  So if the stats, the PFF grades, the film, and the eye test all are in support of A.Q. Shipley over Jonotthan Harrison, then why is the latter starting?  That's a great question, and one that Chuck Pagano really hasn't answered.  The Colts think Harrison can be their center of the future.  Hopefully, they're right.  But so far this year we haven't really seen it, and it makes it even more of a problem considering the fact that Colts have a center sitting on their bench who played and played well this season.  I didn't like the move at the time it was made to bench Shipley, but I could understand it.  The Colts wanted to see what Harrison could do, and for that you need to give him more than just one or two games.  I totally get that.  But I think we've seen that having A.Q. Shipley in the lineup helps the team out much more than having Jonotthan Harrison in the lineup.  And while it might not ultimately make the difference come playoff time, it certainly wouldn't hurt to have your best center option in there.  Especially now with the team's best running back (and by a lot, too) out for the year, the Colts will need help from their line more.  Will the Colts go back to A.Q. Shipley at center?  I doubt it.  But should they?  I think it's pretty clear that they should.

All game footage taken from NFL Game Rewind.