As I am primarily satisfied with Quenton Nelson’s film, I thought moving around to other players made sense. For those who are worried that Nelson could somehow regress and I won’t catch it, no worries. I have clips for Nelson this week as well. I plan to add another Film Room feature or two on Saturday.
The Indianapolis Colts have struggled to find a consistent and reliable option at right tackle. Veterans Denzelle Good and Joe Haeg have both had opportunities, and free agents Austin Howard and J’Marcus Webb were not long-term options — Howard didn’t make the final roster and Webb is on the injured reserve with Joe Haeg. The last player listed as the Colts starting right tackle in consecutive seasons was Gosder Cherilus from 2013-2014.
Needless to say, it has been a slow process finding a player who can hold down the position long-term. While it is certainly too early to definitively state that the Colts have found the answer, the last two games have given rookie Braden Smith an opportunity to stake a claim.
Let’s take a look at the good and bad from the Week 6 and 7.
Per usual, we will focus on the snaps where Smith struggled before we move to plays where he showed his greatest potential.
Here, Smith (#72) takes on Bills edge rusher Trent Murphy (#93) and does a nice job at initial contact to force him wide. He allows his arms to drop and at the second pause you can see Murphy get into his chest. This allows Murphy to push him back into the pocket, forcing Luck to escape.
This is a pressure and could be a hit, if the defender is able to grab Luck’s arm.
This is another red zone play where pressure gets to Luck. In this case, Luck has to force the ball into the middle of the field for an incompletion. Smith is responsible for the pressure because he gets fixated on Steve McLendon (#99) and Leonard Williams (#92). If he quickly realizes that both players are slanting inside, he can keep his head on a swivel and redirect Brandon Copeland (#51) before he can get into Luck’s face.
He doesn’t, so Copeland gets a free shot on Luck and the pass is forced into double-coverage.
Oddly, three of the five plays where Smith struggled were in the red zone. This is a running play where Smith gets out of his stance horribly. His weight is over his toes and he leans to create contract with Jordan Phillips (#97). Phillips pulls the stool out from under him by hesitating and moving laterally.
For all intents and purposes, once Smith is off balance, the play is over.
It is strange to point out a negative block on a running play that goes for a long gain but it happens. In this case, Smith is asked to make a block in space at the second level. As the film highlights, rather than taking an angle on the linebacker, he plants his left foot and drives straight ahead. By the time he closes the gap, he is left chasing. Luckily, the linebacker who doesn’t have the speed to catch Mack in the hole.
He also runs into a human wall called Quenton Nelson who is having his way with Leonard Williams.
Two games, five negative plays.
Perhaps the least egregious of them is losing to Leonard Williams who starts this play with inside leverage. Similar to the play above, where Smith takes a bad angle in space, he needs to immediately attack Williams’ inside shoulder and get to the inside. He engages with a wide but square base and cannot keep Williams from moving down the line to get an arm into the running lane.
This mistake is what trips up Mack and ends what could have been a longer gain.
What you will see in the next clips is consistent with what you will commonly see from Smith on edge rush attempts. He looks natural out of his stance, has long arms that he gets into the defender’s body early, allowing him to control Jeremiah Attaochu (#55) throughout the play. There are 14 or more clips in two games where the rep looks almost identical to this one.
This is another example of an edge rush attempt by Jordan Jenkins (#48). While Smith doesn’t stonewall players with his anchor in the way Nelson does, he doesn’t have to. He is able to anchor and redirect. Jenkins has no chance once his anchor is set.
This is a bull rush attempt by Trent Murphy. It is an impressive show of strength given that Smith has allowed Murphy to get his hands into his chest. Holding this block allowed Mack to escape into space and catch the dump-off pass for a touchdown.
This rep shows how well and how easily Smith mirrors against edge rushers. Shaq Lawson (#90) attempts to get the edge and fails. When he attempts to spin back to the inside, Smith maintains his balance and maintains leverage. Luck has all kinds of time and all kinds of room to get off a clean pass.
While it’s encouraging to see Smith show aptitude on the edges, defenders won’t always press him there. How can he do when he is forced to work laterally on the inside?
He is again matched up with Shaq Lawson, who attempts to slant inside. He is quickly able to engage and square up the defender. His feet are wide but his anchor is set and he remains balanced. Lawson had no chance on this play.
The defender takes a different approach on this snap. Smith has to anchor against the bull rush. Not only does he keep his balance and not over-commit on the initial edge move, he also keeps his base and forces the defender to redirect. He mirrors the inside movement and keeps pressure out of Luck’s face.
What about run blocking?
As the Colts are driving into the red zone against Buffalo they draw up an off-tackle run with Mo Alie-Cox helping to set the edge. Smith needs to get outside leverage to seal defenders from sliding down the line, in an effort to plug up the running lane. He does a nice job of getting leverage and forces the defender seven yards down the field.
On a similar play, Smith is asked to explode inside and cut off any lateral movement by the defensive line. That huge traffic jam of players all bunched up crates the traffic Mack needs to scoot outside for a nice run. Smith’s block played an important role on breaking a nice run.
One area Smith struggled in preseason was keeping his balance and displaying good timing on pull blocks. Here he blows up Tremaine Edmunds (#49) and gives Mack a ton of run to run behind him.
The final play is another example of Smith pulling down to blow up Edmunds. Mack has a nice running lane form in front of him because he doesn’t have to contend with any defenders in the hole.
As one would expect, Smith has some things to clean up. Still, five bad reps in two games — his first two regular season NFL starts, at a position he didn’t play much in college — is encouraging. The most encouraging parts of his film is that he looks natural defending speed rushers on the edge and has shown considerable improvement pulling. He is very smooth in his movement and is strong enough that he doesn’t have to overplay the defender. If he can improve his angles and keep rushers from getting their hands into his chest, he could be really good.