What do the Colts have in Marlon Mack? That is the question many have been asking for more than a year now. There was no doubt from day one that they had an explosive runner who could provide a threat to take every touch to the house.
Mack’s burst and his ability to beat defenders to the edge made him a big play threat right away. However, his inability to consistently run between the tackles and take what the blocks were giving him meant that he was a boom or bust back. With the revelation that he had played all of 2017 with a torn labrum, the question immediately became, “How much did that impact his play?”
With a year of development, a clean bill of health, and the aid of legendary running backs coach Tom Rathman, Mack is back in action and so far he seems to have been transformed. I wanted to get a look at just how good he has been, so I took a look at his last 6 quarters of film and broke them down, starting with the second half against the Jets.
For the sake of not making you read a ridiculously long breakdown and also not skimping on the analysis, I have broken this up into two parts, the second half of the Jets game and the first half of the Bills game will be covered in this part.
Let’s get to it!
Mack’s first touch of the second half goes for 14 yards, and it happens because the play is executed just about perfectly.
The Colts run a counter play where Mack, Kelly, and Glowinski all take a false step to the right to get the defense moving that way, before Kelly and Glowinski pull back left. Then it is just a matter of Mack following his blockers closely until he sees daylight. The only thing that could have made this play better would have been if Ryan Kelly had been able to get off his man and get a hand on the safety. If he does that this run probably goes all the way for a touchdown. Still, hard to complain about a 14 yard pickup.
On this next run, things don’t go quite as according to plan.
Avery Williamson beats Braden Smith in space, which puts him in a position to make a tackle for little or no gain. There isn’t a huge hole here, but Mack is able to make Williamson miss and get skinny to squeeze through that gap. Then he uses his incredible acceleration to get upfield for a 25-yard gain. This is exactly the kind of play the Colts want to see from Marlon Mack.
In the past, Mack might have caved to his tendency to bounce the ball outside and trust his speed and burst to get him around the edge. Here, despite less than ideal conditions, he goes between the tackles and the result is a huge gain.
On this play there isn’t a hole so much as a highway opened up by the offensive line.
Mack is given a huge lane right up the middle with Kelly and Nelson easily removing the defensive tackle and Glowinski holding up on his side. There is just no way Mack isn’t going to get big yards when given this kind of space. He takes this one for 11 yards before punctuating it by lowering his shoulder through the defender.
Here is the last run I’ll highlight from the Jets game, but it is special because it is exactly the kind of run many questioned whether Mack could make.
The offensive line does a good job here, Kelly takes on his man and is able to hand him off to Glowinski so he can work to the next level. However, this is not a huge hole by any stretch. Mack hits that hole decisively, gets skinny, and keeps his legs churning through contact. This isn’t exactly a tough run, but it is the kind the Colts need from him consistently, and it creates a 2nd and 1, which is a dream down and distance for an offensive play caller.
Many people said that the Jets played a defense which allowed the Colts to run the ball more effectively, and dismissed the Colts’ running success as a product of that. So when the Colts did what they did to the Bills, the question was whether this is the new normal or just a flukey few quarters.
Mack’s first run against the Bills showed the same kinds of things we saw against the Jets.
Nelson and Erik Swoope both pull from the left side and get blocks on defenders, giving Mack some room to work, but there isn’t a ton of space. Still, Mack sticks to the play and takes the ball up the middle for 5 yards. In the past you might have seen him bounce that out around the outside edge.
Not every play is perfect.
On this play, the Colts are starting from deep in their own territory. Mack gets the handoff and has a decent hole to begin with. Unfortunately Kelly struggles to get a good block on the linebacker and ultimately this results in a stop for just 2 yards.
The Colts go right back to Mack on the next play with only slightly better results.
This time, Mack takes the ball to the right side and gets a nice block from Mo-Alie Cox to spring him, but the safety sniffs out the play and is there to make the stop. I am not sure there is much blame to be assigned here. This is a good defensive play, and sets the Colts up in a 3rd and short situation, which is where they found so much success on third downs early in the season.
The Colts third drive of the game was where they began to hit their stride. On 4th and 1, they decided to go for it from their own 47 yard line.
Hewitt gets a nice block to open a hole, and Mack squeaks through it, making the defender miss and spinning free to the open field. He picks up ten yards and the critical first down.
Mack keeps it going on his next carry.
Quenton Nelson gets out in space and gets to block a linebacker, which is just beyond unfair, and subsequently there is a massive hole opened. Mack catches his toe on the turf, which slows him down and limits him to a 9 yard gain here. If he had been able to hit the hole at full speed, this one would have gone much longer.
With the ball in the red zone Mack again gets the call on a delay and is at a disadvantage right away. Quenton Nelson is beaten by a lateral move and is off balance and playing catchup to his man before getting ruthlessly shoved away like he is an irksome fly rather than a hulking beast of a man. The result is that Mack has a defender right on him and Nelson in his path. He adjusts and manages to work his way up the field for a couple yards before going down.
Here the Colts come out in a jumbo formation. 6 offensive linemen and 2 tight ends are in on this play, which doesn’t exactly leave a lot of mystery about what you plan to do.
It doesn’t even matter. Smith, Clark, and Hewitt all get great blocks on their men and that leaves Glowinski pulling out to get a block on the cornerback. Mack has a footrace to the outside and along with a nice stiff arm, showcases his explosiveness on an impressive 23-yard run.
We didn’t see many negative plays for Mack, but here is one, and it is tough to put much blame on him for it.
I’m not sure who is to blame here, but neither Ebron nor Castonzo get a block of any kind on Jerry Hughes, which is a bad idea. It looks like because Glowinski is pulling to the left, that Ebron was probably supposed to block Hughes and then release him, but since no one touches him, Glowinski never has a chance to get there quick enough. The result is that Hughes runs nearly free into the backfield and gets a stop for a loss.
This is a play that should have been a touchdown.
The Colts line up in their jumbo formation again, and have Hewitt as a lead blocker. He is sent out to get a block on the cornerback again and Quenton Nelson is pulling around the end, which should be more than enough to get Mack into the end zone. The problem is that Hewitt gets put in the dirt by the cornerback and Nelson has his eyes on the safety. If Nelson had so much as put a hand on the defender he probably goes down in a heap and this is a touchdown. Instead it results in a stop for a loss. Ultimately they get the touchdown on a pass to Hilton on the next play, but a slightly better awareness
All in all, this is four quarters of football that the Colts would be thrilled to get out of Mack with any kind of regularity. Tomorrow I’ll break down the second half of the Bills game, and over the bye week I will put together a full breakdown of the Colts’ backfield in terms of pass blocking.
If this is the kind of play the team gets out of Marlon Mack, they’ll definitely have their answer at running back for the foreseeable future.