The Indianapolis Colts advanced to the Divisional round of the playoffs after defeating the division winning Houston Texans 21-7 in the first round of the playoffs. The Colts’ hot streak has been more than impressive, rattling off 10 wins out of their last 11 games to turn a 1-5 start. As the year progressed, the team slowly transitioned from quarterback Andrew Luck having to carry the team to a bully ball squad led by a strong run game and resilient defense.
One of the main benefactors of this new mentality by the Colts is running back Marlon Mack. After playing a fairly limited role last season, he started the year slow, missing four of the team’s first five games. It didn’t take long for things to starting picking up behind a surging offensive line. He finished the regular season with 908 yards rushing on 195 rushing attempts and 9 touchdowns in just 12 games played. Over the course of an entire 16 game season, his stat line would have been 260 carries for 1,210 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He continued his strong play in the Wild Card game as he rushed 24 times for 148 yards and one touchdown. Whether it is a direct result of the offensive line play or his progression as a player under RB Coach Tom Rathman, Mack is producing when called upon.
The first play clips shows a staple of the Colts’ offense; a sweep with a pulling guard or center. Center Ryan Kelly leads the way with an excellent pull block while both Mo Alie-Cox and Anthony Castonzo create a huge running lane for Mack. I am most impressed by the burst that Mack shows through the hole. He sees the hole quickly and doesn’t hesitate to get to the sideline and work up-field. Great finish on the run too by lowering his shoulder into the cornerback rather than stepping out of bounds. Reinforcing the bully ball mentality.
Mack has improved in a few areas this year but I am most impressed by his continued leg drive and patience in the hole. This play is initially blown up by linebacker Zach Cunningham— despite an excellent block by Alie-Cox on the trap motion— but Mack is able to still make it a positive gain. With an excellent jump cut— which he is pretty stellar at— and continually driving his legs through contact, Mack is able to evade the tackle in the backfield and turn it into a really solid gain. Love his patience to not give up on the play upon seeing the linebacker fill the hole and how he makes something out of nothing. Notice that he finishes the run falling forward too. The little things are so important.
Next is the touchdown run that gave the Colts a two score lead early in the game. Another sweep where the line paves the way for an easy touchdown. Mack does a great job of getting to the corner quickly and cutting up field when necessary to get the touchdown. He likely could have cut sooner behind Kelly but the play resulted in a touchdown so you can’t critique it too much. Great block by Joe Haeg on Jadeveon Clowney, as that opened the lane for the score.
The next play is an outstanding cut, along with excellent burst around the corner. The play is designed to be a run up the gut but Clowney reads is perfectly and beats Castonzo inside. Mack recognizes this immediately and runs to the vacated edge. He then displays excellent cornering ability to beat linebacker Zach Cunningham to the edge and is nearly able to turn the corner for more yards. He finishes the run with his patented stiff arm that sends Cunningham falling to the ground.
Where Mack continues to struggle a bit is with his vision and finding holes, especially on sweep or stretch plays. When the hole is obvious, he is great and accelerates for big gains. When it isn’t, well this happens. Mack simply reads the hole wrong. He cuts up field once he sees JJ Watt shed the block of Alie-Cox. If he trusted his blockers more and followed them on the sweep, Kelly would have picked up Watt and Mack could’ve had the corner for a big gain.
This next clip shows how much easier it is to play running back in the NFL with a dominant offensive line. Mack does a nice job of getting up field quickly and gaining yards but look how much room there is here. Mark Glowinski drives his defensive lineman seven yards off the line of scrimmage while Kelly and Braden Smith take care of the linebackers. The result is a huge gain up the gut where Mack isn’t touched for eight yards.
Perhaps the most impressive play on Saturday was Mack’s next run. Hats off to the phenomenal pull block by Smith. Mack is able to slide around the block with agile feet and burst to get to the second level. He then performs two incredible jump cuts in the open field on Texans’ defensive backs, including one that broke the ankles of former Pro Bowler Tyrann Mathieu. A truly nasty play that deserves to be shown over and over again. Runs like this make me think that we are only scratching the surface with what he could be.
Another area where Mack has really improved this year is getting skinny through the hole. In his rookie season, too often he would try to bounce plays outside. This year, he is trusting his blockers more on inside runs and driving his legs through smaller and smaller creases to create yardage. There is almost no room for him to squeeze through here yet he is able to continually drive his feet and create yardage. Great job of shedding the tackle by the defensive lineman in the hole to get to the second level. He nearly makes Mathieu miss again in the secondary. Excellent run.
Last clip is my personal favorite run of the game. This is the run that put the game on ice. Much of the offensive line gets pancakes, starting with right tackle Braden Smith. However, the pancakes aren’t immediate and Mack has to be patient in diagnosing the hole. He stays on his toes and is able to sift through the traffic and get to the second level. Once he bursts through the line, it is one-on-one yet again with his favorite safety in Tyrann Mathieu. Mack gives him his patented stiff arm— the same stiff arm that dropped Clowney last season— before sliding down in bounds to clinch the game.
Marlon Mack thoroughly impressed for most of this game. He appears to be getting better and is making the most of his opportunities behind a dominant offensive line. On Saturday, Mack showed a ton of traits that make me optimistic for his future in the Colts’ backfield. I am most impressed by his ability to turn nothing into something.
The coaching staff deserves a ton of praise for this performance. Mack was used on a lot of trap and pull plays rather than ones that required zone blocking. The coaching staff drew up a perfect gameplan that allowed their lineman to bully the Texans’ defense and Mack to play his style. To beat the top team in the AFC this weekend, the coaches and Mack are going to have to bring their “A” game yet again. I like their chances with this rushing attack.