The Colts decided to spend the 6th overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft on guard Quenton Nelson. The move ended up being a great one as Nelson dominated in his first year as a starter, earning All-Pro honors. Looking back on his outstanding rookie year though, how did he fair in his biggest match-ups? In this new film room series, we will be looking back on some of the biggest and best match-ups of this past season.
First up on this series is Quenton Nelson vs Geno Atkins. In Nelson’s first career game, he had the daunting task of facing a future Hall of Famer in Atkins. Atkins has been an elite player for a long time in the NFL as he has 71 career sacks, 7 Pro Bowls, and 2 All-Pros under his belt. For any player, blocking him is a tough task but as a first ever match-up for a rookie this is the toughest player to face.
With his devastating bull rush and outstanding athleticism, Atkins gave Nelson all he could handle in this one. How did Nelson do overall though in this game? Let’s look at the film and find out.
The first play of this highly anticipated match-up is won by the future Hall of Fame defensive tackle. Atkins shows off his deadly strength and athleticism by tossing Nelson aside. Nelson is overwhelmed by his strength as he has likely never seen anyone as strong as Atkins in his entire life. Nelson is then forced to hold just to keep his quarterback clean on the play. Not a promising play to start the game but it is somewhat expected as, again, Atkins is a superstar veteran in the league.
Next play and Nelson is able to adjust. Atkins tries to come back with his patented bull rush to get Nelson on his heels again. This time however, Nelson is able to buckle down, prepare for the rush, and hold his ground at the point of attack. To give up this little separation and hold up this well against one of the best is impressive for just his second career snap. Another noteworthy aspect of this play is how Nelson is able to rebound. After a rough first rep, he learns from his mistake and holds his ground for a positive play. That mindset is another trait that makes him so special.
The first career pancake for Nelson is a good one. Atkins is initially lined up on the right side but Nelson ends up blocking him on the pull. Atkins lets up on the play as the running back races by but Nelson continues blocking. This catches Atkins off guard as he is driven back into the feet of a Colts lineman. He ends up on the ground on the play and Nelson finishes the play by burying him. Relentless effort by Nelson and a great drive to get his first career pancake.
The biggest low-light of the day for Nelson came on this devastating bull rush by Atkins. Atkins knocks Nelson off balance with a strong initial blow. He then comes back with his patented bull rush that rocks Nelson and puts him on his back. This is a play that obviously looks bad on the outside but is easily correctable. He learns to clean up his base and keep his hands inside the rest of the game and he makes few mistakes from this point on. Atkins is a player though that you cannot make a mistake against because he will make you pay.
The most impressive play of the game for Nelson was on this rep here. As I have mentioned before, Atkins has a deadly bull rush that few players can handle. Here, Nelson buckles down and holds back his relentless attack. Nelson matches him strength for strength, and this play looks like two heavy weight boxers trading body shots. This is what a battle between two elite players looks like as neither wants to give an inch. Nelson ultimately prevails and stonewalls Atkins before he can get to Andrew Luck.
Nelson gets beat badly here due to trying to predict Atkins’ move. Atkins has been battling with Nelson all day using power and bull rushes. As a result, Nelson gears up for the bull rush here and attempts to initiate the contact. Atkins then changes course and swats Nelson away and moves around him for the tackle for a loss. This is where the challenge lies in playing offensive line in the NFL. You have to be able to predict and prepare for your opponent while also staying disciplined in case they counter or do something else. Nelson commits too hard to the bull rush here and gets beat by the quickness of Atkins.
Going toe-to-toe yet again with one of the best is so impressive for a first career start. Atkins tries his best to get around Nelson by using a bull rush and relentlessly trying to swat the hands of Nelson away. Nelson is able to stay with him and match every movement and push. Matching a superstar like Atkins is insane and you can just see why he was worth that 6th overall pick last year. A play like this just shows how special he can be.
Another example of Nelson learning from a past mistake. After being too aggressive earlier on a sweep play and getting beat by Atkins using his speed, Nelson is able to to match him athletically. Earlier he whiffed while gearing up for a bull rush but now he is patient and waits for Atkins’ first move. He notices Atkins trying to side-step him and is able to move and match his movements. Again, the skill set that Nelson has is great but the ability to adjust and learn on the fly is one area that makes him so special.
Final clip is a perfect way to cap off this incredible match-up. This game was a brawl from start to finish and these two heavyweights were battling all game. Atkins attempts to go back to his bull rush but Nelson again is able to stuff it with his own strength. Body blow after body blow, these two players were going at it. Who knows though, perhaps this will be a game we talk about in 20 years when both players are being enshrined in the Hall of Fame (I know I’m getting ahead of myself but these two are that good).
Watching the clips from this game, it is hard not to respect the play of both players. This was Nelson’s first game but the strength and physicality along with the mental aspect to rebound from mistakes was outstanding. Atkins was remarkable as well as he made an All-Pro guard look foolish multiple times with his moves.
The biggest takeaway though is just how Nelson was able to hold his own in his first game against a superstar. He never got frustrated and continued to battle all day against a great player. That mindset combined with his elite traits are what make him such an outstanding player. I expect many more All-Pro seasons in the future from him as he continues to grow and build on everything he learns in this league.