One of the season’s biggest stories for the Indianapolis Colts has been the improvement from the offensive line. Chris Ballard used two of his top three picks on highly rated guard prospects. He also made some shrewd free agent signings to shore up what had long been a glaring weakness.
One player who has played a significant role in the line’s transformation is Braden Smith. When he was selected in the early second round, fans assumed that he would be slotted in at right guard, and that he would eventually become the long-term starter there. Surprisingly, he looked good in limited action during the preseason at right tackle and carried that over to the regular season when he received his shot due to injuries early in the season.
Smith has his weaknesses, as do each of the players on the offensive line, but he has proven to be particularly effective at combating speed rushers on the edge and pulling down the line to block in the ground game. He was able to maintain his effectiveness pulling but struggled considerably containing the edge rush.
Let’s take a look.
After five clean games, the Indianapolis Colts offensive line finally allowed an official sack. Braden Smith (#72) was unable to keep up with Cameron Wake (#91) as he came around the edge to knock the ball out of Andrew Luck’s hands. It is worth noting that Marlon Mack (#25) stayed in, looking to his left for a possible blitz, and that his feet collided with Smith, affecting his balance.
It is hard to say whether the slight collision with Mack was the primary cause for the sack or that the outcome would have been the same without it, but Smith’s struggles throughout the game indicate the latter.
Here, Smith is again unable to handle Wake’s speed around the edge. You can see at the second pause that Smith has failed to contain. You shouldn’t see his jersey number so clearly from this angle if his block is effective.
It appears that Smith is ineffective for one of two reasons. The first, he is slow to mirror Wake’s movement as he attempts to get depth in the backfield. Strange, since this has been one of his strengths all season. The second, Wake gets three steps without receiving any contact. This allows Wake to initiate contact with a full head of steam and makes it harder for Smith to effectively counter.
Either way, the struggles continued throughout the day.
As with the previous play, Smith gives up the edge and is so late to engage that Charles Harris (#90) is already turning the corner. Right guard Mark Glowinski (#64) is also pushed far enough into the backfield that Luck ends up throwing around him to get a pass away.
While Harris is unable to get a hit on Luck, Smith again fails to win on the edge. As with one of our previous clips, we shouldn’t see Smith’s face from this camera angle, let alone his inside shoulder. He loses so badly that he has to chase Harris to maintain a block.
Smith faces off with Wake and again loses on the edge. Wake hits Luck and the Colts were very fortunate that this wasn’t another sack or a possible interception. We have seen two previous interceptions this season where Luck felt pressure and had to sling the ball opposite his initial read, resulting in disaster.
Another area of Smith’s game that will need work as he develops is reach or second-level blocks in the run game. We have highlighted in previous film rooms that Smith needs to take better angles to be effective in this area. On this play, Smith comes out of his stance with his legs too wide to effectively explode into the running lane. He also takes too straight of a path toward Raekwon McMillan (#52) who has escaped by the time he arrives.
McMillan ends up making the tackle. If Smith gets there, the outcome could have been different. As Zach Hicks pointed out in his film room breakdown of Evan Boehm, Marlon Mack could have also helped himself by reading the cutback lane and rushing for a big gain.
At the end of the clip, note that Jack Doyle is effectively sealing the edge against Jerome Baker (#55). Rest assured that Eric Ebron will not be as effective in this area. This part of Doyle’s game could possible be missed more than any other.
Smith is again unable to get a body on McMillan on this play. I did note that he trips on Le’Raven Clark’s left leg as he attempts to get to the second level. This is the primary reason the block is ineffective but doesn’t change the fact that if Smith seals McMillan here, Mack has an inside and outside lane to choose and only defensive backs in front of him.
I am not highlighting this play to demonstrate Braden Smith’s failure as a blocker. Frankly, Akeem Spence’s penetration is due to a couple of things that were outside of Smith’s control.
First, Smith has to honor the edge rush from Charles Harris. Eric Ebron is no run blocker and effectively only serves to push Harris right into the running lane. Second, Mark Glowinski releases Spence early to get to the second level. It was an ineffective hand-off between the linemen. Third, and most important, this is a horrible play-call.
This is the first play of the Colts game-wining field goal drive. Miami was sending their defensive linemen aggressively up field to disrupt the offense. The Dolphins had no choice but to play the run on the way to the quarterback. Reich has had a good season overall but plays like this at key moments will haunt the team in the future if he’s not careful.
Our final clip demonstrates one of Smith’s primary strengths. It is a beautiful thing to see him smoothly work behind the line on the pull to flash in the hole at just the right time. Jerome Baker has no chance and Nyheim Hines gets safety Reshad Jones (#20) one-on-one in space.
This was not a particularly effective game for the offensive line as a whole. Zach Hicks already showed some of the areas where Evan Boehm struggled filling in for Ryan Kelly, Quenton Nelson was flagged for three penalties — two were accepted, and Smith had a rough day.
It is difficult to figure out the root cause for Smith’s struggles on the edge. It is odd that one of his best abilities this season was so exposed. Hopefully he can figure things out after watching tape, whether he needs to correct his footwork or needs to recover from an injury that hampered his quickness on the edge.