One of the most highly contested position groups for the Indianapolis Colts is the offensive line. Quarterback Andrew Luck has been under duress far too much during his young career and he is without a doubt the most important piece of the team’s chances to succeed.
After numerous signings and attempts to fix the offensive line primarily through free agency, former General Manager Ryan Grigson finally got serious about addressing the problem in the 2016 NFL Draft. He drafted four offensive linemen and three of those offensive linemen were starting by the end of the year.
Still, questions remain and not just with the rookie and second-year linemen. Even the highest-paid and longest-tenured player on the line, Anthony Castonzo, has caught his fair share of criticism for what seems to be a drop-off in performance over the last two years.
This feature will focus on the Colts left tackle position to breakdown Castonzo’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential longevity holding down the most important position on the offensive line.
FACT: Anthony Castonzo (#74) struggled far more than what I would like to see as Luck’s blindside protector. He is particularly susceptible to bull rushes and often puts Luck in a tight spot with a quick throwing window.
ANOTHER FACT: The games I broke down featured marquee pass rushers Tamba Hali, Brian Orakpo, and Jadeveon Clowney. I expect that Castonzo won’t win all the time but I still didn’t like some technical things Castonzo does that makes his job much harder.
In the play above, pay close attention to two key attributes of Castonzo’s blocking technique. 1) While it is good to slide and mirror in order to keep speed rushers from getting the edge, it is not necessary to be on your heels with your shoulders up when you do so. 2) Pay particular attention to his arms. EVERY TIME he has his arms outside of his shoulders with his elbows bent on a bull rush, he gets destroyed.
You will see in later videos how much better Castonzo fares when he does not commit these two (far too common) technical gaffes.
Once again, Castonzo (#74) is on his heels and he pivots with his arms wide. Look at his arms going from outstretched to get a hand on Haeg’s (#73) defender to slowly close in on his man.
If he would take a step into the defender and to his left and use his arms to get a punch in front of him, the defender will be moved off of his line to the quarterback. Instead, Haeg falls down and the pressure from Luck’s backside (Castonzo) pushes him up into the sack.
On this play Castonzo gets fooled by a stutter step by the outside linebacker. Once again, it is my contention that even in a slide and mirror pass block, Castonzo would be better served by taking a step into the defender to engage. He literally walks himself back into Luck.
One attribute that we have seen each offensive lineman display so far is the ability to make combination blocks. They are certainly not perfect at this, as they are particularly susceptible at identifying stunts inside but on the outside Castonzo is able to help out on Simon (#51) and get enough push on Clowney (#90) for Luck to make his throw.
This is another example of having the vision and awareness on the move to get a body on more than one defender to keep Luck clean.
This play is a prime example of the kind of technique I mentioned in earlier videos. Rather than simply sliding and mirroring, Castonzo steps into Clowney to initiate contact and maintains that contact through the block. He keeps his arms in front of him and forward leverage to force Clowney further into the backfield and away from Luck in the pocket.
While this may not be a perfect example of what I would like to see, it is much different and shows that Castonzo does much better when he initiates the engagement.
Another interesting observation is that Castonzo is quite strong when he’s matched up with bigger defensive linemen. They don’t tend to get the momentum going like edge rushers do and he holds his own quite well in these situations.
It makes me somewhat curious about how well Castonzo would do at guard or right tackle. As do some of the later videos.
Once again, even in a passing situation, Castonzo goes out to the defender to control the engagement from the snap. He gets a good punch into the defender and is athletic enough after initial contact to ensure the defender stays out of the play.
I would like to see more of this technique on display in pass protection. It will not always be the right choice to take multiple steps out into the defender and he may have to anchor on certain plays but he can still do more to control the engagement at initial contact.
Castonzo allows a sack on this play and part of the reason is the use of his hands. He mirrors and slides to be in the correct position with his feet but his hands remain high on the speed rusher who is dipping to get the edge. Against larger players like Hali or Clowney he may be okay staying a little higher but against a player like Dee Ford (#55) who has no chance of legitimately bull rushing him, he should stay lower in his stance and stronger in his punch.
This is another example of Castonzo showing he has the strength to anchor when he keeps his arms inside his shoulders and gets a stronger punch into the body of the defender. He shuts down Clowney and EVERY TIME I saw him stay “skinny” with his arms and keep his base behind him, he kept the pocket very clean.
What I have concluded about Anthony Castonzo is that he is too inconsistent for my taste as an NFL veteran left tackle. He displays technical weaknesses against the bull rush that will create pressure on Luck far more often than should happen. I do sympathize with him because he faces the best pass rush talent on every team he faces but it is clear watching these games that he is an average left tackle at this point in his career and nothing more.
In my opinion, if Castonzo hopes to extend his NFL career beyond his current contract he has three chances to do so. The first, and best option, is to continue working on his technique with Joe Philbin to revive what has been two or three lackluster seasons. The second option is to move to right tackle where he no longer has to take on the best pass rushers on almost every passing play.
The final option is to move inside to guard. I realize 6’7” is awfully tall for a guard and could make this a long-shot but he has solid strength in a phone booth, solid football IQ, and the athleticism to pull when asked. Call this option “last ditch.”
The best option for the Colts long-term, based on the players they currently have on the roster, is likely to groom Clark to be the left tackle of the future. Until then, expect Castonzo to be serviceable but not a top-flight player at his position.