One constant of Frank Reich’s offense is that there are going to be a lot of people touching the football when he draws the game plan up. This makes it much harder for defenses to key on one particular player and eliminate them, because the game plan doesn’t run through just one guy.
The running back room is likely to look that same way, but last week, one player clearly looked more effective than the others, and that was Jordan Wilkins. We’re going to break down Wilkins’ game against the Redskins formidable defensive line and see what we can learn about this exciting young rookie running back.
Wilkins got his first carry on the Colts second play from scrimmage, and was the first rushing play of the game. They are in 12 personnel, meaning they have two tight ends on the field, and both Hewitt and Doyle are lined up on the right side of the line.
The Colts do a pretty good job of blocking this play, with the designed gap between the two tight ends on the right side. Doyle blocks in and doubles #98 Matt Ioannidis with Joe Haeg. Doyle really blocks him well, and once they’ve moved Ioannidis, Haeg is able to release and get a block on linebacker Zach Brown.
Quenton Nelson is pulling from the left side and because Hewitt makes a good block to the outside, the only guy Nelson has to hit is #54, linebacker Mason Foster. That badly goes about like you’d expect it to, and leaves Wilkins an excellent gap to run through for 11 yards and a new set of downs.
Wilkins has the vision and intelligence to take what the defense gives, and the patience to wait for the blocks to develop that make him successful. The only regrettable thing is that you could envision a healthy Marlon Mack, who has far better explosiveness and acceleration, breaking through a hole like this for a much bigger gain. Wilkins simply isn’t that guy who is going to break off huge gains. If he can get 11 yard gains though, it won’t matter.
On his next carry, the Colts send Nyheim Hines in motion just before the snap, and it moves all three linebackers, who undoubtedly saw the speedy back on film from week one. This gives Ryan Kelly the opportuniity to get to the inside shoulder of Mason Foster and leaves a pretty massive hole right between the guard and tackle on the left side. If Ryan Grant is able to get a better block on his man, this play might have even gone for longer, but as it is, Wilkins gets an 8 yard pickup and keeps the offense churning.
The next time we see Wilkins it is in lousy field position. Frank Reich dials up a screen pass which is telegraphed with ease. Since neither receiver gets any kind of block on him, Josh Normal blows up the play in the end zone. Wilkins manages to stay on his feet, keep them moving, and falls forward to get himself forward progress and save a safety. This play goes for no gain, but the heads up play and effort from Wilkins to save a disaster is worth noting. This was a bad play call and execution, but it was not on Wilkins.
Here we’ve got another pulling play, this time with Slauson pulling from the right side. This play sends Hewitt in motion before using him as a lead blocker, and Wilkins follows him pretty well. While there are limitations to the expectations for wide receivers who are able to block, here we find Ryan Grant’s man, Dunbar, being the guy who stops this from being a bigger run. Still, it results in a 4 yard pickup because Wilkins patiently follows his blocks and moves forward.
On the next play, the design brings Hewitt in motion outside of Doyle lined up on the left side. The play is intended to have Wilkins go in between the two tight ends, with Slauson pulling and taking out Mason Foster. The problem is that D.J. Swearinger sniffs it out quickly and gets in a position to make a stop. That, combined with Hewitt losing his one-on-one battle shuts the intended gap down quickly. Wilkins manages to get two yards, which is about all that is there. This was mostly just the result of good defense by the Redskins.
This play in my opinion, is one of the more encouraging ones for Wilkins in this game. He generally trusts his offensive line and goes where the play intends him to. This is exactly what coaches want, but it also can be limited by any bad play from the offensive line. Marlon Mack’s biggest struggle is that he tends to rely on himself more than on the line or on the designed play.
However, there are times when a play doesn’t work out the way it is designed. This play is a prime example. Nelson is pulling again on this play, and Wilkins follows right behind him. However, there is absolutely nothing there. There are gaps on both sides of the pile in front of Wilkins, and he smartly chooses to bounce the play out to the left side, which gives him room to run and nets him 8 yards.
This is Wilkins’ biggest run of the day, a big one for 18 yards. It is all made possible by making that counter step to the right before cutting back and blasting around the left end. Hewitt locks his man down and Wilkins is off to the races with all kinds of space. This kind of gain is a back breaker for defenses, and it came when the Redskins desperately needed to make a stop and get the ball back to have a chance.
All in all, Wilkins is proving himself to be a solid runner who is situationally aware, takes what is there, and makes something out of nothing more often than not. He rarely takes negative plays or makes the wrong read. When given a good hole, he gets the most out of it, and while he isn’t the explosive playmaker in space that Hines and Mack are, he is also not as prone to mistakes as either of them.
In short, he is the perfect back to be in Frank Reich’s system, because he is reliable and moves the chains, but is well complemented by guys like Mack and Hines who can add a different dimension to the running game. I think we will see Wilkins’ role grow as the season goes on and he continues to prove himself an asset on offense.