Colts center Ryan Kelly was impressive paving the way for inside runs against the Oakland Raiders. He had one goal line but spent much of the day dominating nose tackle Johnathan Hankins and helping to lead the way for a second consecutive 200-yard rushing performance.
While inside blocking is nice, one of the big themes for offensive linemen in Frank Reich’s offense is the ability pull and get a body on defenders in space. This ability helps stretch the field laterally, can be used to misdirect defenders, and can lead to effective screen plays. We have already noted that Quenton Nelson, Mark Glowinski and right tackle Braden Smith have done well in this area. Today, we will examine Ryan Kelly’s ability to pull and block on the move.
While this isn’t an explosive play, it yields four or five yards. Ryan Kelly (#78) doesn’t have a huge role in the outcome here, as Marlon Mack (#25) bounces the run inside, but he gets a nice kick out block on the edge that could have resulted in a big play. Unfortunately, Braden Smith (#72) was unable to get to Marquel Lee (#55) at the second level on the backside. This allowed Lee to flow to the edge and redirect the run into traffic.
It is important to understand the expectation of an offensive lineman who is asked to block in space or on the move, particularly when he is asked to seal the edge or to kick out defenders on a pull. It is easy to envision an offensive lineman running through defenders, driving them 20 yards down the field, looking like a runaway bulldozer. This isn’t a realistic expectation for an effective block in these situations.
The reality is that offensive linemen are not nearly as fast as the players they’re leading (which you knew). It takes an all out sprint to get in place before a speedy running back or other ball carrier is breathing down their necks. As a result, the expectation is to get a body on the defender in space and redirect the player enough to allow the ball carrier to pick up additional yards and get to the next level.
With that understanding, it is easy to identify that Kelly does his job here. The safety has to come down and make the play. If the safety isn’t there and Jack Doyle isn’t called for a hold, Kelly did enough to allow Hines to run for a 40-yard touchdown.
This is another strong play. Kelly gets to the edge before Hines and is able to turn the corner to get a body on the linebacker. This isn’t a powerful collision and he doesn’t blow up the defender. He doesn’t have to. He gets around the edge, redirects the defender, and Hines is taking on a safety at the second level of the defense.
Kelly is asked to do something different in this play. The entire offensive line is tasked with a zone run to the right. They all take initial steps toward play direction and attempt to open a lane for Hines. One key is stopping the flow of defenders down the line. If defenders can simply mirror the running back and force him to stay lateral, they won’t give up meaningful yards.
As a result, Kelly must find a way to get in front of the defenders and turn them back. He does exactly that on this play, sealing the back side and gives Hines some room to cut the run up field. Jack Doyle (#84) is unable to maintain inside leverage on a defensive back in space, which shuts the door on what could have been a nice running lane.
This is another nice block on the move. Mark Glowinski (#64) quickly passes the defender to Kelly who is able to maintain outside leverage and drive the defensive lineman down the field. Sure, the defender ends up making the tackle on the play but he is seven yards down the field. If Glowinski and Chester Rogers (#80) are able to sustain their blocks a little better, Kelly and his man wouldn’t have been an issue.
This is one of the prettier blocks you will see an interior offensive lineman make on a backside seal. At the snap, Kelly has to cross behind Mark Glowinski, who is down blocking. This transition is the key to everything working. Kelly does an excellent job cleanly navigating to the outside and is so quick to engage the defensive lineman that there is no chance the defender can impact the play. The pairing of Glowinski and Kelly on this play results in domination on the edge. If Braden Smith could seal Kyle WIlber (#58) to the inside, Hines may have been off to the races for a 25-yard touchdown run.
Ryan Kelly has been generating considerable praise from his offensive line coach, who calls him the best center in the NFL. Somehow, he has taken a backseat in the media due to bigger surprises from rookie draft picks and an otherwise overlooked off-season signing. The film room review this week has shown that Kelly is deserving of the praise his coaching staff is throwing his way.
We will close out our review of Kelly’s performance against the Raiders with a piece on blocking at the second level.