After the Indianapolis Colts picked up their first win and Andrew Luck seemed relatively clean all day, it’s a good time to take another look at the offensive line. With Anthony Castonzo still not on the field the unit isn’t at full strength so the work they’re doing is all the more impressive.
While we’ve taken a very close look at Nelson’s adjustment to the NFL game as a pass protector, there really wasn’t a lot that stood out in this game — in a good way. I may throw up a bonus piece tomorrow with a few clips that do a reasonable job of showing the highs and lows but today we will focus on the impact Nelson is having on the ground.
While the team still hasn’t entirely developed the running game, Nelson will play a key role throughout the season. Someone is breaking a big one this year and my guess is that Nelson will be responsible for making it happen.
We will start with the biggest blocking blemish of Nelson’s day. He is asked to get to the second level, in space, to block Zach Brown (#53). Brown is too quick laterally and avoids Nelson’s grasp.
Nelson comes out of his stance very wide and appears intent on maintaining his base. He may have been keeping his eyes open for stunts but if he intends to engage a linebacker on the second level, he’ll need to close the distance quicker. Brown isn’t going to over power him but if he has time he’ll easily avoid him.
At first glance, this play also stood out to me as a failed run block. I was surprised that Nelson got so off-balance and ended up plugging the running lane in front of Mack. As you will see, once we slow the play down and take a closer look it is clear that Matt Slauson and Nelson’s legs collide when Slauson pulls left. This collision trips Nelson up and ends up putting him on the ground.
This is still a failed run block but it is more of a fluke than something to be concerned about regarding Nelson’s balance.
If you were hoping for more criticisms or bad tape to analyze, you’ll be disappointed. Those were the two worst blocks for Nelson on the day, hands down. What is up now is a string of examples where Nelson shows himself to be an asset for the ground game.
In this play, Nelson controls Jonathan Allen (#93) off of the snap and turns his hips to seal him inside, creating a running lane behind him. Le’Raven Clark also does a nice job of taking Ryan Kerrigan (#91) for a walk to the inside but to see Nelson display the strength to push Allen into and through the center of the field is impressive.
Matched up with massive rookie nose tackle Tim Settle (#97), Nelson shows a very strong base and the agility to flip his hips and create a clear running lane to the inside. Settle is 6’3”, 328 lbs. and had absolutely no chance here. Honestly, it doesn’t look like Nelson had to work particularly hard here.
One of Nelson’s best attributes is his ability to pull. Here, he pulls to his right and comes around the corner to get a body on the linebacker. This poor soul is pummeled to the ground and left to grasp for Marlon Mack as he shoots through the gap. As I mentioned earlier, the running game hasn’t put it all together yet but blocks like these are going to provide big play opportunities as the season progresses.
One of Nelson’s big reputations coming into the NFL is his desire to play through the echo of the whistle. He looks for opportunities to dominate his opponent and will happily capitalize on the chance to punish a player after he has them beat. The camera moves left here to follow the ball but after the defender is on the ground, Nelson reloads and punishes him back into the ground.
It is really hard not to love a guard who will block like that every game.
We have certainly seen a lot of strong blocks from Nelson in the analysis but this is my favorite block of his entire day. Combo blocks on running plays are challenging because the window of opportunity to move from one player to the next is so small. The running back only has a second or so to find a hole and get downfield.
On this play, Nelson discards Pernell McPhee like he belongs on the JV team. He then explodes to his right and obliterates Zach Brown in space to open a hole behind him. If Jack Doyle is able to seal Preston Smith, there could be a nice bounce back lane to the runner’s left. The result of the play may not be inspiring but Nelson’s block was beautiful.
BONUS MATERIAL: RUNNING BACK VISION
Our bonus material for the ground game today is showing how the running backs still need work on their vision. This is a new offensive line and a new blocking scheme, so we’ll forgive some early year gaffes but this play is a prime example of where Marlon Mack needs to see daylight and take what the play gives him instead of trying to do too much. He has an easy 3-5 yards here on a short yardage play early in the game if he takes what the line gives him but he chooses to bounce the play to the backside where there is no where to go.
It should be instilled in the running backs mind that they need to at least take a look at wherever Quenton Nelson is heading when he pulls across their face. We have a limited sample size here but I’m comfortable suggesting that following him will likely yield running room. Running right up the middle on this play shows no patience and no vision. Something the backs will need to work on.
Quenton Nelson’s first two games in the NFL are extremely encouraging. People can argue about whether to select a guard sixth overall but there is little doubt that he is an immediate impact player on the offensive line who could, frighteningly, get even better. He has held up nicely as a pass blocker against two very respectable defensive lines and has already started compiling and impressive highlight reel.
I look forward to putting together the Earl Grey film collection at the end of the year.