While Braden Smith’s game stood out the most against the Dolphins, there were numerous key blocks and penalties called involving other players. The final Colts Film Room for the Week 12 game against Miami will analyze these plays. If you missed it, we already spent time focusing on Smith’s struggles. Zach Hicks also broke down center Evan Boehm’s performance and offered a season-long perspective on second-year corner Quincy Wilson.
Let’s see who else stood out.
No player has had a greater impact on the improvement of the Colts offensive line since Week 5 than starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo (#74). Indianapolis did not give up a sack for five weeks after he returned to the lineup and the ground game started to pick up considerably.
These facts don’t mean that Castonzo will be perfect on every snap. This is the first would-be sack of Andrew Luck that was called off due to a defensive penalty. Let me be clear, had this remained a sack, it would not be all on Castonzo. Luck holds the ball way too long here. Even Quenton Nelson (#56) is holding on for dear life by the time Luck goes down.
However, it is entirely fair to point out that Castonzo lost the edge on this block. Robert Quinn (#94) is able to turn the corner too soon and it leaves Castonzo desperately reaching to knock him off track. It has been some time since Luck has taken a shot like this one.
We will call this play The Great Escape™. This sealed the game and is an example of the type of play that few NFL quarterbacks are able to make. Luck’s ability to feel pressure and the strength and athleticism to avoid it and maintain his balance after contact is incredible. If he goes down here, the Colts are forced to punt and the game is not decided until overtime.
There were two losses by the offensive line. Castonzo fails to seal Andre Branch (#50). He gets far too much penetration and is dangerously close to a sack, or a possible strip sack. This is a match-up between an offensive tackle and a linebacker, and Castonzo needs to anchor better. Branch gets up into his collar bones and controls the engagement.
Mark Glowinski (#64) also fails to block Akeem Spence (#93). Spence is running a slant, crossing the face of the center and attempting to go through the B gap outside of Glowinski. Center Evan Boehm (#67) passes Spence outside but Glowsinki fails to seal. Spence is already parallel with him and crossing the line of scrimmage by the time he attempts to recover.
The pending convergence of Spence and Branch are what forces Luck to escape. Pressure from both sides, no escape route to the outside, and pressure coming into a quarterback’s face is almost always check mate. Castonzo and Glowinski are lucky and their charming quarterback is something special.
One of the primary areas that received a considerable boost after Castonzo returned from injury is the running game. This play could have gone for huge yardage. Unfortunately, Castonzo failed to maintain his block on Quinn, who rips out of the block and tackles Marlon Mack (#25) shortly after he cross the line of scrimmage.
If Castonzo holds his block. Boehm’s second-level block and Jack Doyle’s (#84) seal on Kiko Alonso (#47) would have given Mack a whole lot of green to work with.
Speaking of Jack Doyle, if you want to know why it will hurt to lose his contributions on offense, look at this play. I’ve already noted that Doyle is the best blocking tight end on the team. He is more effective sealing on run plays and chipping before he goes out into his route than any other player on the roster.
Here, Doyle chips down on Branch and releases to seal the outside lane for Mack. He finds Rakwon McMillan (#52), initiates the block, and runs him 8 yards downfield. If Boehm is able to get a better block on Spence in the middle of the field, Mack has an inside cut-back lane and might still be running.
One of the most challenging areas for young NFL running backs is pass protection. There are numerous reasons. Some want to avoid extra contact, given that they play an already brutally physical position. Some don’t understand who to block or how to identify pressure pre-snap to be very effective. Some make contact but are simply ineffective.
Indianapolis has three running backs on the roster with less than two full years of experience. Only Jordan Wilkins has any meaningful size, as it relates to taking or delivering a blow as a blocker. One of the biggest concerns for feature rusher Marlon Mack last season was his weakness as a blocker, particularly compared to Frank Gore.
This is an example of Mack making some progress. His first step is to release to his right but he keeps his eyes on the defense and quickly recognizes the blitz. He takes a hard step and generates a lot of speed in a short space to deny the blitz and give Luck a clean pocket.
This is Quenton’s Nelson’s first holding call. The play is supposed to go to the right but Boehm is unable to kick the defender out of the rushing lane. Mack is left to improvise and bounces back to find some running room. There isn’t any to be found. Branch is waiting to clean up the play as Castonzo had released to the second level to look for defenders to block downfield.
Nelson displays an incredible first step and athleticism to seal inside. Davon Godchaux (#56) drives him back into the traffic and forces him to stand up. For all intents and purposes. both players are out of the play at this point. Godchaux has his back to Mack and has no idea he is there until he is smoked in the side as Mack dives forward for yards.
The reason Nelson drew the penalty is because his left hand is on Godchaux’s shoulder pad. It is unlikely that this play turns out any different if Nelson’s hand is inside the shoulder pad but that is what draws the call.
This hold may have been called for similar reasons. Nelson squares up Sylvester Williams (#98). Once Williams notices the play is going outside, after he started to commit inside, he reaches out to make a play. Reaching means you surrender your base. When you surrender your base against Quenton Nelson, you drink tea.
Note that Nelson’s right hand is outside of Williams’ shoulder pad. this is the logical explanation for the holding call. However, we slow down the play considerably to highlight the movement of Nelson’s right hand. He can’t be holding with that hand when the hand is free to move up and down in the frame.
What makes the call more frustrating is that the flag is thrown from the side judge who is about 15 yards away off-screen to the right. He is looking through Marlon Mack as he runs by and determines that because Williams is on the ground, Nelson must have held him.
Speaking of drinking tea, Nelson serves up a particularly strong batch on this play. He quickly establishes outside leverage to seal Robert Quinn inside. Nyheim Hines (#21) is releasing outside to create yards in space on this play.
Once Nelson gains the advantage, he presses it. For good measure, he presses it some more. He wants to let Quinn know who Daddy is, in case he had forgotten. It is hard not to love seeing an offensive lineman do this kind of thing. Particularly if he is on your team.
I bet Andrew Luck sleeps well at night.