The Indianapolis Colts offensive line has started to get a lot of attention. Over the past three games, Andrew Luck has not been sacked and the rushing game has started to do real damage. The return of veteran left tackle Anthony Castonzo has certainly been important. Contributions from rookies Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith have also played a big role in the line’s success. Even former Seahawk Mark Glowinski has been vastly outperforming expectations.
Lost in all of this is former first round center Ryan Kelly. He has been earning a great deal of praise from his offensive line coach but he has certainly not been generating the kind of discussion on a national level that his rookie teammates have been. It’s time to take a closer look at his contributions to get a feel for his role in the unit’s recent success.
We will start with his contributions in the passing game against the Raiders in Week 8.
Our first play shows a perfectly executed stunt that surprises Kelly (#78). He is left to reach to get a block on P.J. Hall (#92) and ends up hooking him with his arm. It is difficult to see here but he appears to have been held by Nicholas Morrow (#50) who crashed into him. You can see the linebacker’s arm is extended.
If so, this explains why he couldn’t slide out to redirect the stunting defensive lineman.
While Kelly does a nice job of controlling his man on this play, there are more defensive players attacking the line than their are Colts players to stop them. Luck ends up taking a shot on this play, and you would have liked to see Kelly come off of his block to slow down the free pass rusher.
The second pause and highlight shows an excellent block by running back Nyheim Hines (#21). Despite his small stature, he is not afraid to mix it up as a blocker and helps keep more pressure out of Luck’s face as he releases the pass.
This play is not particularly exciting but it shows an important trait for good NFL pass blockers. We have pointed out throughout the season that Quenton Nelson is particularly good at keeping his head on a swivel to pick up defenders and find where he can help.
Here, Kelly recognized that all defensive linemen have been accounted for play side, so he rolls out to the backside to keep pressure out of Luck’s face as he looks in the other direction. This makes for an easy pitch and catch to tight end Jack Doyle.
It has been fun to watch rookie Quenton Nelson lock on to defenders and drive them out of the play in 2018. While he continues to do so, Kelly also gets into the mix to keep the pocket clean. Rookie defensive lineman Maurice Hurst (#73) attempt to slant inside but is met by Kelly, who anchors and drives him out of the pocket.
This is another example of Kelly easily handling the defensive lineman. Nelson comes over to help but has little to do.
Former Colts nose tackle Johnathan Hankins (#90) lines up directly over Kelly and attempt to drive him into Andrew Luck. While he certainly forces Kelly to re-anchor a couple of times, he ultimately fails and is unable to get pressure on Luck. This is a nice one-on-one battle with a strong defender to give Luck plenty of time to search the field and roll out to his right.
Kelly again handles a Raiders defensive lineman one-on-one. This time it appears that Hurst is attempting to generate pressure up the middle. Kelly corrals Hurst in the middle of the line and gives Luck a couple of yards to step into his throw. It is nice to see him mirror a young, athletic defender by himself and give Luck the time he needs to get his pass away.
Colts fans have a great deal of familiarity with strong center play. Jeff Saturday most recently formed a connection with Peyton Manning that fans in Indianapolis will not soon forget. First round pick Ryan Kelly represents hope to potentially fill Saturday’s void for the long-term and keep the pocket clean for Andrew Luck.
While there was quite a bit of running in Oakland, and therefore more to breakdown in that area of the game, Kelly had an effective game as a pass protector. The holding penalty and free blitzing linebacker were the biggest blemishes of his day. Otherwise, he either effectively drove defensive linemen out of the pocket or effectively anchored to keep Luck clean to deliver his passes. It is nice to see him do much of his work one-on-one as the center position can be one that requires the most help on the line.