The Colts’ offensive line has returned to their dominant ways in 2019 as they are near the tops in the NFL in rushing yards and least amount of pressures given up. While Quenton Nelson— and even Anthony Castonzo— gets all the hype, center Ryan Kelly has been putting together a very dominant season so far. He has maintained his dominance in run blocking but his notable improvement in pass protection and finishing blocks has put him in the NFL’s elite in terms of center play.
In today’s film room, we will be looking at what makes Kelly so good and why he is one of the more valuable players on this Colts’ offense.
While run blocking has always been Kelly’s bread and butter, he has taken it to a new level in 2019. He excels at climbing to the second level and erasing linebackers from the play. He moves defensive tackles effortlessly and plays with great leverage and hand placement in doing so. The biggest improvement he has made in this area is his strength as he is moving players with much more ease than he has in the past.
This first clip is quintessential Ryan Kelly. With the shade technique defensive tackle lined up to the play side, he has to beat the tackle to the spot and angle his body in such a way to shield him away from the running lane. He makes this look easy, however, as his quick first step and excellent hand placement allow him to control the block from the snap. He is able to hold tight to the block while Marlon Mack cuts up field for a big gain. This is a very difficult block that Kelly routinely makes look easy.
On Mack’s big touchdown run in week one, Kelly completely dominates his assignment at the point of attack. This is where he has shown the most improvement, as he is strong enough to run a very talented defensive tackle in Justin Jones out of the play. Similarly to the first clip, Kelly has to reach the shade technique defensive lineman on the play side. He beats the lineman to the spot and gets his hands inside. He then drives his feet and runs the lineman well out of the play. We’ve seen this athleticism in the past from Kelly, but now seeing him running players out of the play like this with his strength is a huge improvement.
Final clip in run blocking, as Kelly climbs to the second level and seals off the linebacker from backside pursuit. This is where Kelly has always been dominant in his career. If he is able to get to the second level clean and get a free shot on a linebacker, the result is likely a big play. This play is no different, as he gets to linebacker Jayon Brown and takes him out of the play. Jordan Wilkins is able to break free on this run due to Kelly’s block on the linebacker. Overall, he is just a great run blocker who sparks so many big runs.
While Kelly has never been a poor pass blocker in his career, it has never been as good as his run blocking. This year, however, he seems to have improved quite a bit. There are still a few plays where he has fallen off of blocks and allowed pressure too quickly, but overall he has looked very sturdy in pass pro. His hand placement, yet again, has been great, and he has played with a very sturdy base. Kelly has controlled the center of the line and has not had any miscommunications resulting in pressures. Very steady in pass pro this year by the young center.
This first clip shows off Kelly's hand placement and strong base. He gets his hands inside quickly on the defensive tackle and from there he is able to hold on and not allow any separation from the tackle. While the tackle starts to bull rush, Kelly continually resets his base to keep the rusher controlled. He gives up some ground, but he is able to control the block and give Jacoby Brissett enough time to get the pass off.
While he has looked solid in one on one blocks, the best he has looked has been in just his overall control of the interior. He has stayed in control and aware on stunts, and has helped his teammates when needed. This clip is a perfect example of that. Kelly initially starts off blocking the nose tackle before passing him off to Mark Glowinski. He keeps one hand on him, though, in order to help Glowinski control the block. As Kelly does this, he notices the other defensive tackle break inside so he extends his other arm to help Quenton Nelson control his block. The control and strength on the inside by Kelly here is impressive as it allows Brissett to have enough time to take the deep shot.
Finishing Blocks/Mean Streak
The best improvement in Kelly’s game this season has been how he has finished blocks. This could be a bit of the Howard Mudd/Chris Strausser effect on him. While most offensive line coaches preach finishing blocks and finding work, Mudd and Strausser’s system are a bit more physical than most. Regardless, Kelly seems to be playing nastier than he has in years past which a great development for this team.
He has done a great job of finding work this season in pass protection. Rather than just staying inside and securing the middle, he has done a great job of contacting defenders engaged with his guards and helping this team establish that bully mentality. He finds work on both of these plays and levels Glowinski’s defender in pass protection.
Here, Kelly takes advantage of a defensive lineman who stops his feet, and is able to drive him into the ground. First, notice the hand placement by Kelly. He gets them inside and tight and controls the block from there. He then shows off very impressive hip flexibility as he is able to turn his body and the defender away from the hole. He then drives the defender into the ground for the pancake. He is finishing blocks much better in 2019 than he did in years past.
Final clip of the day, and again he is able to finish a block by putting a defender into the ground. He sells the play fake action by starting to run block. He again beats the shade defender to the spot and runs him out of the play. He gets the slight assist by Glowinski and is then able to bury the defender into the turf. He has looked much much stronger and meaner in 2019.
Ryan Kelly has been a very solid center for years in this league. He has some of the best hand placement in the league as well as being one of the better athletes in the league at the position. He has always been a dominant run blocker while being an above average pass protector as well.
The biggest improvement this season, which has propelled him to Pro Bowl status, in my opinion, has been the strength he appears to have added and his newfound mean streak. For a finesse type center who was already very good, finishing plays and controlling blocks easier is a huge boost. He has played at an extraordinarily high level this season and is one of the reasons why the Colts sit at 2-1 in this young season. Hopefully he keeps up this high level of play and makes his first career Pro Bowl.