The Colts just suffered a rather heartbreaking loss at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles in a game where their offense was relatively ineffective. With the passing game looking out of sync and very little yards gained in the running game, it’s a good time to look at the offensive line and see where the struggles came from.
Last week, Brett broke down Quenton Nelson’s performance in the running game against the Washington Redskins as the team as a whole was very effective running the ball. This week I’ll be looking at Nelson in the passing game as the Colts weren’t very efficient running the ball on Sunday and relatively abandoned that aspect of the game plan pretty early on. Nelson was matched up against the likes of Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, and Fletcher Cox so it’ll be key to his development to see how he fared against these really good players.
The passing game is still trying to find its groove with Andrew Luck coming off his big injury, a new system in place under Frank Reich, and injuries at the offensive tackle position. Quenton Nelson is still growing and adjusting as an NFL pass protector but he showed a lot of improvement in his third NFL game.
Our first clip here has Nelson matched up with defensive end Brandon Graham. Nelson does a great job of initially getting his hands up and keeping them inside. He’s able to initially win the rep and force Graham inside and out of the play. Where Nelson makes a rookie mistake here is that he gets too aggressive and tries to drive Graham out of the play entirely. Graham is too quick and is able to fight back into the play. Nelson finishes the rep off with a nice recovery to keep his quarterback protected.
I liked the quick hands up and inside here by Nelson. It essentially wins the rep from the start as it would be very hard for Graham to recover and get a sack from that position. Overall its a solid rep from Nelson with a minor rookie mistake that nearly cost him.
This one may be a little difficult to see here but Nelson does perhaps my two favorite things I like seeing from offensive guards. First he notices that his man goes inside and becomes Ryan Kelly’s responsibility. Without hesitation, Nelson finds work and immediately helps seal the edge on Eagles’ pass rusher Derek Barnett. The second thing he does here is playing to the whistle and finishing his block. He puts Barnett on the ground even though the ball is away from him.
This play checks every box from any offensive line coach. Finding work and finishing blocks are perhaps the two most important little things that an offensive lineman can do to establish a presence on the field.
This rep right here is perhaps Nelson’s worst of the day. He gets a bit over aggressive in his pass set and lunges forward way too quickly. Defensive tackle Destiny Vaeao surprises Nelson with a quick bull rush and is able to drive Nelson back into the pocket. As a result of being too aggressive, Nelson lost his base and hand placement. Luckily the pass was a quick, one read play and Nelson has the elite strength to limit the damage when he is beat like this. He does do a good job though of fighting his way back into a favorable position by the end of the play.
This isn’t a great rep by Nelson but it does show my main concern with his play this far in his NFL career. He tends to get over aggressive and lunge out of his stance too much which leads to him being out of position.
This rep is noticeable improvement from the last one. Here Nelson is patient out of his stance as he stays low and establishes his base as Haloti Ngata comes to him. As a result, Nelson is more prepared for the bull rush and is able to establish good hand placement and get proper footing so he isn’t driven back. This play is night and day from the last poor rep.
Nelson in this rep accounts for the bull rush from the much stronger Haloti Ngata and is able to properly prepare for it by establishing his base rather than lunging forward. This rep right here is more of what I’d like to see Nelson do against defensive tackles to avoid getting driven into the QB’s lap.
So this rep is a bit weird. Obviously Nelson accomplished the basic job of protecting the quarterback— against stud pass rusher Fletcher Cox nonetheless — but Nelson does make a few mistakes. He again is a little too aggressive against Cox which leads to Cox getting inside hand placement on Nelson’s chest. From then on, Nelson is reeling as Cox keeps him off balance the entire time and Nelson is basically hopping back into the pocket.
Nelson’s natural strength is able to keep Fletcher Cox away from the quarterback here but it is not a great rep. Once Nelson loses inside position from his initial over aggressiveness, he is reeling the rest of the rep and essentially dancing back into the pocket.
This is a solid rep from Nelson, again against Destiny Vaeao. Nelson shows a good quick punch which initially drives Vaeao away from the play. Vaeao is able to work back though and counters Nelson’s hold to get a moment of separation. Nelson is then able to show impressive recovery as he comes back down the line to reestablish position and stay on his block.
The initial punch combined with a very good recovery gets Nelson the win here. After Nelson initially won the rep, Vaeao is able to counter with a move that would usually get free against most guards. What makes Nelson potentially special is how he turns potential losses like this into decent reps that are wins.
Our last rep we are going to look at is probably Nelson’s best of the day. Lined up against Michael Bennett, Nelson gets a very good initial punch which knocks Bennett off his intended path. Nelson then — rather than getting overaggressive — decides to ride Bennett on that too wide path and let Bennett run himself out of the play. This is a very savvy, veteran type move to do this to a player of Bennett’s caliber.
Nelson is excellent here. It’s so hard for rookie lineman to not try and straight up win every single rep. Sometimes the right play is just letting the rusher run himself out of the play.
Quenton Nelson had a very solid game in pass protection against the Philadelphia Eagles. He made some rookie mistakes but his ability to recover with his strength and agility is what made him such a high draft pick for a guard. He shows off a really nice first punch in pass protection and when he establishes a good base with proper hand placement he is nearly impossible to beat.
My only real negative that continues to show up on Nelson’s film is his over aggressiveness. At Notre Dame, Nelson could get away with this since he is so strong and agile. In the NFL though, any missed step or over set results in getting driven into the backfield. Regardless, Nelson has shown some very positive strides in this department since the Cincinnati game.
Nelson will continually get better as he continues to get snaps and will definitely show that he was worth his top 10 selection. For now though, I can confidently say that he did not allow any hurries or pressures in this game against the Eagles. He is certainly better than Pro Football Focus’ 55.0 grade he received this past weekend.
I look forward to seeing how Nelson improves going into next week’s game against the Texans as Brett will likely return for this piece breaking down Nelson’s play in that game.