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Tale of the Tape: Marlon Mack struggles in pass protection against the Jaguars

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Stampede Blue is working on breaking down game film from the 2017 season to help analyze numerous areas of the current Colts roster. It is our hope that doing so will help identify where the roster needs improvement, where it is struggling, highlight which players show up in the errors more often than others, and put together educated opinions on what general manager Chris Ballard will need to do to improve his team in 2018.

This series will focus on sacks given up. We will try to identify who bears responsibility for each sack and will help explain where breakdowns happened. This is intended to be as objective as possible. Often there is more than one contributing factor to a sack and we’ll do our best to highlight them for each play.

This “episode” focuses on the Colts second meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 13 of the 2017 season.

The offensive line actually does a relatively solid job of keeping the pocket clean on this play. Unfortunately, the pressure is created in Jacoby Brissett’s face due to Jeremy Vujnovich blocking Lerentee McCray (#55) into the side of center Mike Person. Once Person’s leg is taken out, Calais Campbell (#93) is able to flash in Brissett’s face and flush him out of the pocket.

Even with this pressure, it is not a sure sack. Brissett has room to evade the pressure and get out of harm's way. Why he doesn’t throw this pass away is hard to understand. He ran himself out of bounds for a sack.

When we look at the sideline view, we get a better perspective of what is happening. It is worth noting that these routes are awfully far down the field. Chester Rogers runs a 10-yard out that is well covered but Kamar Aiken and T.Y. Hilton run deep routes.

Presented with this route tree, Brissett has one read on the play and that is the deep safety. He will be forced to make a choice and when he does, Brissett will have his best target. You will see that the safety turns his back to Aiken and chooses to help on Hilton. At this moment, Brissett should be firing the ball in the gap in front of Aiken for an easy reception. He doesn’t make this read fast enough and so must escape pressure.

What happens next is an example of errors by Aiken and Brissett. First, anytime a receiver comes out of his break and sees his quarterback getting flushed out of the pocket, he must break off of his route and come back toward his quarterback. This will allow Brissett to lead him with a shorter pass and salvage the play. If Aiken does this he will be wide open.

Second, Brissett is well outside of the pocket and can either run out of bounds for a loss of yards or throw the ball away. The choice is obvious. Brissett doesn’t make it.

This sack has only one person to blame. Rather than initiate contact and create a pop that forces Myles Jack back onto his heels, Mack chops his feet and plants them in concrete. Jack disposes of him and gets right into Brissett’s face.

If Mack’s blocking failure isn’t bad enough, he makes another bad decision after he whiffs. The only way he can help correct his wrong is to flash in front of Brissett as a possible dump-off target. Instead, he gives chase and takes himself entirely out of the play.

This will look awfully familiar. It is Mack’s responsibility to chip Posluszny if he comes on a blitz. Instead of focusing his immediate attention on his blocking responsibility, Mack tries to hit the hole fast — seeing space in front of him in the area Doyle is leaving. This oversight results in another sack.

As with the previous play, the only option Mack has when he misses his block is to turn it into as much of a positive as he can. In this case, he needs to escape to the flat and present Brissett with a dump-off option to avoid the sack. He once again sets chase and ends up in Brissett’s face.

This sack is completely on the offensive line. There are numerous culprits and a number of dominoes that fall throughout the play that leave Brissett with nowhere to go.

When Haeg fails to block Malik Jackson (#97) early on it causes two problems. The first is that Jackson will get quick pressure in Brissett’s face and force him off of his spot — making it impossible to make a quick pass. The second problem is caused because Jackson pushes off of Good to make his way into the backfield. This throws off Good’s balance and gives Dante Fowler Jr. (#56) the advantage.

Good is able to recover and allow Brissett to get outside but earlier in the play Mike Person gets beat by Yannick Ngakoue (#91) who is moving laterally to cut off Brissett’s escape. Every step of the way an offensive line failure cuts off Brissett’s ability to do anything with the ball or evade the pressure.

The sideline view allows us to see that it is the early pressure allowed by Haeg that nullifies Doyle on the short route. However, even in the face of all the pressure, Brissett does have an option to avoid the sack. Mack leaks out of the backfield into the flat. Under no circumstance should Brissett try to force a pass to him here but he can throw the ball out of bounds over his head and save the lost yardage.

Brissett tries too hard to keep plays alive sometimes and that does play a role in taking sacks. Don’t misunderstand, the offensive line is very much responsible for the pressure and has to own this sack. However, veteran quarterbacks sling this out of bounds knowing where their release valve is and keep the field position.

There are two Colts involved in Malik Jackson getting pressure on Brissett. The first is Jeremy Vujnovich. When you watch the play at full speed you would immediately blame him for failing to make the one-on-one block. The real reason Vujnovich fails is that Marlon Mack chucks Jackson as he is trying to rip and spin to his left. Mack’s contact gives him the energy he needs to succeed.

It is important to take a look at the sideline view on this play though. While Mack deserves blame for the mistake that allows pressure, his release is perfect. Brissett just needs to identify where the pressure is coming from and know Mack’s route. If he puts some touch on the ball to Mack releasing toward the numbers, he will have an easy completion and an easy first down. With this kind of space, Mack could even break a long run for a score.

Earlier in the season fans were screaming for Marlon Mack to get more game reps. He offers game-breaking athleticism at the running back position that Frank Gore no longer does. Colts coaches were asked by the media for an explanation and they made it clear that concerns about Mack’s ability to pick up his blocking assignments were limiting his role in the offense. If this game is any indication, there is very good reason to be concerned about having Mack in the game in clear passing situations.

Out of these five plays, there is one that is the primary responsibility of the offensive line. Brissett has a share of the responsibility on three of the sacks because he either fails to throw the ball away when he should or fails to recognize when he as a legitimate target to hit to avoid taking the sack.

There are two things about these plays that stand out from a coaching perspective. First, if the coaches know that Mack struggles as a blocker, why leave him alone in an empty backfield so often? Why not bring in a tight end to help pick up the pressure and take some of those responsibilities? Second, there are too many plays in obvious passing situations where receivers are running routes that are 20+ yards down the field. Those routes are rarely inspiring and put more pressure on the offensive line while Brissett holds onto the ball for receivers to get open.