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Film Room: Marlon Mack impresses in Colts’ loss

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Running back Marlon Mack played well in his first game back from injury, can he continue this solid play?

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts dropped yet another game this past Sunday, pushing their record to 1-5. Despite the four game losing streak, there are some positives to take away from Sunday’s action.

Eric Ebron and Darius Leonard continued their strong play and Andrew Luck once again continues to prove his doubters wrong every week. The offensive line— despite a few low lights— put together one of their better performances of the season.

Oh and Marlon Mack looked really good for much of his first game back from injury.

Mack has been sidelined with a hamstring injury and had only appeared in one game. He finished the Jets game with 12 carries for 89 yards and added 1 catch for 4 yards. This is pretty impressive for a team that has struggled to run the ball this year.

So was Mack’s positive statistical output due more to him having a very good game or to the offensive line opening lanes for him? Lets look at the film to come to a conclusion.


Positives

My biggest concern with Marlon Mack coming into this season was never his athleticism. Mack is an exceptional athlete with great burst and home run ability. My biggest concern has always been his vision, as he has been unable to consistently find open running lanes in the past, both with the Colts and at USF.

Check out this video by Matt Waldman on Mack’s vision here against the Redskins. The video is a tad long but it is worth a watch so you can see the reasons for my concern.

Despite his history, I was thoroughly impressed with Mack’s vision and patience against the Jets. He displayed the perfect amount of patience for much of the game— another thing he has struggled with— and often took what the defense gave him rather than trying to force a home run play on every snap. He still showed off his excellent burst and the ability to make defenders miss, which lead to a great performance and an average of more than 7 yards per carry.

Our first clip here shows an example of Mack’s improvement. In the past, Mack would try to cut the play outside and outrun Jamal Adams to the pylon. Instead, Mack keeps his eyes up field and is able to cut on a dime to gain 7 yards. This is an excellent cut that helped get his team in scoring range. His ability to plant his foot and burst up field is quite impressive.

Our next clip again shows off the patience that Mack was displaying on Sunday. On a shotgun cutback run, timing is everything. The running back’s job here is to stay right behind his linemen and follow them as they create the hole. Mack is able to do just that as he stays right on the backsides of Ryan Kelly and Mark Glowinski as they lead the way for a big gain. Just another example of Mack being patient and taking what the defense gives him. Nothing super flashy here but Mack does everything right again on this play and it leads to a big gain.

This next highlight reel clip goes for the second longest run of the season for the Colts, and really highlights Mack’s athleticism. Mack again chooses to get the play vertical rather than breaking to his outside. He is able to sidestep the initial defender and makes two defenders miss in the hole en route to a 25 yard rush.

The athletic traits to make those players miss along with the vision to find the hole and get up field shows great potential for Mack. Also, is there anything better than a jump cut? Colts have desperately missed the ability to make plays the first few weeks.

This next clip is the result primarily of a poor read by the Jets’ linebacker and great blocks by Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly— but I like the way Mack finishes this play. On a simple inside run out of shotgun, an offense typically expects to gain 3-4 yards to stay ahead of the sticks. With Mack’s burst and ability to finish, he is able to get 10 yards and a first down. I like how Mack lowered his pads and ran through contact, giving him an additional 2-3 yards at the end of the run.

Big hole but great job by Mack to get the most out of the play.

This next clip is my favorite run of the day. Here it is a simple inside run call out of shotgun. Mack looks for an outlet for a split second before he plants his foot and gets up field despite the very small hole that is created by his offensive line. Where he really impresses me is how he gets skinny through the hole and keeps driving his feet in order to turn what would typically be a 2-3 yard gain into a 9 yard gain.

In the NFL, the holes are very small and result in little room for error. Sometimes running backs need to just get up field and keep their feet moving in order to get positive yards— something that former Colts running back Frank Gore understood very well. This is a very good, veteran type run by Mack.

Lastly, I really like this run by Mack, even though he lost his balance. We see Mack show patience and an impressive jump cut in the backfield. He’s able to navigate through the traffic and finds the open hole. If he doesn’t lose his balance on this play, this could be another 10+ yard run.

Overall Mack showed a lot of positive signs in this game and I feel comfortable saying that this is the best rushing performance of Mack’s career.


Negatives

Despite an overall positive performance, there were a few negatives in this game. He did show a lot more decisiveness against the Jets but his bad habits are hard to break and we will some of the old traits pop up. We will also see that Mack was less than stellar in the passing game. The Colts’ coaching staff clearly trusts Nyheim Hines more in the passing game and at this point and its easy to see why. Mack just isn’t as consistent of a pass catcher or pass blocker to be in on third downs right now.

Our first clip shows Mack being a bit too patient in the backfield. Ideally, Mack should just just plant his left foot in the ground and immediately get up field. Instead, he hesitates a bit too long and likely costs himself a couple extra yards. He finishes this run very well and is able to create yards after contact.

The last clip is obviously Mack’s worst snap of the day. Andrew Luck hits Mack right in the chest and Mack looks up field before securing the catch. The ball goes through his hands and right to a Jets’ defender for a touchdown.

It’s a terrible mistake and it simply cannot happen in the NFL. That being, it’s a young player trying to make too much happen. I don’t expect to see more of this from Mack going forward this season.


Analysis

Marlon Mack put together the best rushing performance of his career on Sunday. He has always been an excellent athlete who can turn any run into a big gain but the vision and patience he showed against the Jets is what he will need to be a starting running back in this league.

He still has some things to improve on, including limiting big mistakes like his dropped pass and establishing some consistency with this vision and patience as a runner. I am interested to see if he can continually find holes and vertical running lanes going forward.

At the end of the day, Mack gave the Colts something it has desperately needed this season— a running game. Luck was able to put up bigger numbers in the second half with Mack running strong. Hopefully, this creates the possibility of a more balanced offensive approach that takes some pressure off of Luck moving forward.