The Indianapolis Colts pulled off a major upset on Sunday night as they took down the Kansas City Chiefs 19-13 in Arrowhead. It was a dominant team performance, as the offense scored when they needed to and the defense shut down the Chiefs high-powered offensive attack. The Colts’ offense was a bit one-dimensional but the game plan worked to near perfection for a majority of the game.
The Colts knew going into the game that the key to victory was to control the time of possession and grind out positive yards on every play. With that in mind, the team relied heavily on talented running back Marlon Mack to carry the offense in this big match-up. He was able to come through for his team with an impressive 29 carry, 132 yard game on the ground. In today’s film room, we will be looking at just how good he was on Sunday night as well as identifying areas that he has shown drastic improvement in.
This first clip has to be up for run of the year up to this point. Mack showcases everything you want to see from a running back in this one play. He starts up the middle on the routine dive play. He jump cuts to where he sees an initial opening. He stays light on his feet, though, and as he recognizes a linebacker occupying the hole, he begins to bounce outside. He again stays light on his feet as he jump cuts away from a free defender on the outside before cutting up field. He again sidesteps another defender while also throwing his patented stiff arm before bursting through the defense for a huge gain. He shows excellent footwork, vision, and balance all on this one play.
While patience is great, a running back has to know when to cut up field and hit a hole when it is there. On this next run, Mack showcases that burst and speed to quickly hit a hole. He takes the hand off out of the gun and initially waits to find the hole. This is only a momentary delay, though, as he quickly notices the gap opening to the right side of the line. He explodes out of the backfield and hits the hole with great speed. He slices through the defense for a big gain on the play and shows that he can be patient, but also quickly diagnose the hole and explode through it.
Mack is able to showcase his speed and burst again on this next run. The call is a delayed draw play, with Quenton Nelson pulling around from his left guard spot to lead the way. Mack gets the ball in the backfield with a ton of space in front of him. He gets behind his top lineman and quickly cuts off his backside to the open space. He is able to fall forward for a positive gain on the play. He didn’t do anything special on this play but he shows good patience to allow Nelson to get to the second level before cutting off his backside for the big run.
The true test of whether or not a running back is legit is seeing how they operate when they don’t have space. Can the running back truly create running lanes and space for himself? Mack is one of those players who absolutely can make room for himself. This play is a great example. The initial lane is clogged up the middle and Mack has to adjust on the fly. He cuts to the backside and takes the ball to the outside. He outruns the run-filling linebacker to the outside, then quickly corners and gets up field. He gets past the linebacker and finishes the play with a good, hard jolt to the outside cornerback.
While most of these clips are showcasing Mack's running ability, I would like to point out another aspect of playing running back. Running Backs Coach Tom Rathman preaches pass blocking to his backs as it is a very important aspect of playing the position. While Mack struggled in this area last season, he has shown some improvement in 2019. Here is not an example of a perfect pass blocking rep but he does a great job of identifying the blitz and initiating contact with the free rusher to slow down the play. While it is not a perfect rep, and he still needs some work in this area, it is promising to see that he has improved in this area.
Another area of Mack’s game that has looks to have improved in 2019 is his pass catching out of the backfield. In 2018, he really struggled as he suffered from multiple drops and he lost some playing time as a result of this weakness. In 2019, he is showing more positive signs in this area, and has been much more reliable out of the backfield. Here, he helps with a chip on the outside before leaking out of the backfield on the circle route. He makes a nice hands catch before turning up field for a positive gain. Again, this was a part of his game that he struggled with in 2018 but appears to have improved in the early parts of this year.
On a pivotal fourth and two late in the game, the Colts give the ball to their bell cow running back for the conversion. This play is unique as the Colts run an outside stretch play to the right, a play design that they rarely use. Mack does a great job of working to the outside but he struggles to find any hole to cut up field. He then turns to his last resort to get the first down. He grabs the back of right tackle Braden Smith’s jersey and pushes him forward. This extra push, and Smith’s outstanding strength and power, is enough for the Colts to get the first. This was a great heads up play by Mack to improvise enough to get the first down in a big situation.
Mack did such a great job all game of knowing when to be patient and knowing when to quickly hit a hole. There were plays like the first clip in this film room where he showed light feet to find a hole and plays like this where his burst was much more important than his patience. Here, he recognizes that the receiver in the slot is going to make a crack back block on the corner so he quickly takes this run to the outside. As a result, he is able to get more yards than what he would have gotten if he stayed up the gut. This adjustment on the fly has been a major improvement to his game in 2019.
Final clip of the film room: Again, Mack is able to make something out of nothing. This is Mack’s biggest improvement over last year as he was one of the worst starting backs in the NFL last year in yards after contact. He looks much stronger and quicker this season, and is able to make players miss in the backfield with much more consistency. Left tackle Anthony Castonzo is beaten quickly off the ball by Frank Clark, who is in Mack’s face as he takes the handoff. Mack doesn’t panic as he quickly sidesteps the free defender and works up field for a positive gain. This was an excellent run and a great exclamation point on a dominant day running the ball.
Marlon Mack has developed nicely throughout his NFL career as he climbed up from athlete playing running back to legit NFL starter. He currently sits at 5th in the NFL in rushing yards and is on pace for 1,500 yards rushing this season. While he was impressive last year, he looks even better in 2019.
He has made improvements in terms of his vision and patience while showing improvements in previous areas of difficulty such as pass blocking and pass catching. Every day it appears as though Mack is getting better in every area as he puts together big game after big game. With his athleticism and burst, it’s hard to not be excited about this young running back’s future. He is already playing like a Pro Bowler this season and he could be even better if he continues this positive projection.