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Film Room: Marlon Mack, Offensive Line have to dominate on the ground to beat the Chargers

Marlon Mack finished strong in 2018

NFL: AFC Wild Card-Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 NFL football season is finally here. The Colts take on the Chargers in a game that doesn’t appear to be the offensive showdown that it once looked like it could be in the offseason. With the retirement of Andrew Luck for the Colts and the holdout of star running back Melvin Gordon for the Chargers, the point totals may be a bit lower than expected this weekend. With lower point totals expected, the key to victory may be on the ground for the Colts.

Running back Marlon Mack was very productive last season and he hit his stride late in the year. In the final five games of the season (week 15 to the divisional round game), he rushed 97 times for 486 yards, 5.01 yards per carry, and 5 touchdowns. With Mack hitting his stride late last year, adding mass to become the bell cow, and going through his first full healthy offseason in the NFL, he could carry that late season momentum into the first few games of 2019.

In today’s film room, we will be looking at the effectiveness of Mack late last season as well as the impact the offensive line had on his production. We will also discuss why these two factors could be the key to victory this Sunday.

Offensive Line

The key to late season success was a multitude of factors across the offensive line. The first factor was guys winning their initial blocks, which is fairly self explanatory. The second factor, though, was linemen getting to the second level and controlling downfield blocks. These two factors had a major impact on Mack’s strong ending to last season.

This first clip is a perfect example of these two factors. Center Ryan Kelly and left tackle Anthony Castonzo both win their initial blocks and lock up the defensive line easily. This allows for guard Quenton Nelson and tight end Mo Alie-Cox to climb to the second level. Nelson reaches linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and buries him at the second level. Alie-Cox is able to kick out the safety who is coming downhill in the run lane. The result is Mack going relatively untouched for a first down.

Again these two factors show on this next clip. Guards Joe Haeg and Quenton Nelson lock up the inside and allow for the pulling tackle to get to his desired lane. Castonzo is able to pull from his left tackle spot to the hole and kick Vander Esch completely out of the play. Kelly is able to climb to the second level as well, and get just enough of linebacker Jaylon Smith to take him out of the play. The result, again, is Mack not getting touched by a defender until he is at least 10 yards down the field.

A ton of motion up front for the Colts on this play as they run the sweep to the outside. Castonzo locks down the edge as the rest of the interior pulls in front of the play. Nelson meets star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in the hole and completely drives him out of the play. Guard Mark Glowinski gets just enough of the backside linebacker to throw off his angle. The star of the play, though, is Kelly. He pulls all the way from his center position to the third level as he takes out the outside cornerback. Mack is able to get to the sideline untouched and get a huge gain on the play.

The final clip for the section of the film room is a beautifully designed wham play. Glowinski and Nelson execute their down blocks perfectly as they take the interior defenders out of the play. Right tackle Braden Smith quickly comes around on the wham and seals off the backside defender with a powerful block. Kelly then climbs to the second level and beautifully locks up the linebacker to spring the big play. Mack makes a couple nice jukes to break off the run, but again he goes untouched for 10 yards before approaching his first defender.

Marlon Mack

While the line was putting together pretty dominant performances, Mack was also playing some top football. He was running confidently and finding holes that he missed earlier in the year. His burst and athleticism also showed out as he was very tough to bring down in space by defenders.

This first clip is a designed run up the middle. Mack recognizes that the inside is congested and he bounces the play outside. He is forced to make a move in space and he shows off great balance and quickness to break the tackle. He then gets around the corner and quickly gets up field for the big gain. He finishes the run with great power, carrying the defensive back for a few extra yards. Vision, athleticism, and strength all shown off on this play.

The area where Mack probably improved the most late in the season was getting skinny through the hole and continuing to drive his feet. Here is a perfect example of that. This play is a simple run up the middle that Mack turns into a huge gain. He takes the hand-off, finds the hole up the gut, and explodes through the gap for the big run. The explosion and burst are impressive, but I love how he squeezes through the interior and doesn’t miss a beat with his feet. Great burst, but confidence in his vision and getting through the hole really stand out on this play.

Another perfect example of his confidence, getting skinny through the hole, and continually driving his feet. He takes the hand-off up the gut and quickly identifies the hole. He plants his foot and works up field off the back of his interior line. He squeezes through a tight space and continues to drive his legs through the contact. He bursts through to the second level and gets the big gain. Wish he could have beaten the safety for the bigger gain but the entire process from confidence to leg drive are perfect here from Mack.

This final clip puts all of this positive improvement together. He takes the hand-off and shows off great patience as he waits for the play to develop. He finds an outside lane and plants his foot in the ground before bursting to the outside. He finishes the run by putting a nice stiff arm on safety Tyrann Mathieu to gain the extra yardage. Mack made a huge leap in his play late last year as he developed from athlete playing running back to bell cow back. If he continues this development, the Colts would be wise to feed him.

Final Thoughts

The Colts’ offense relied on the play of Andrew Luck until late last season. Once Mack established himself as the lead back, the team put together some very strong performances late last year as they took the pressure off of Luck to do it all. Now, with Jacoby Brissett as the starter, the team would be wise to take some pressure off him early and lean on Mack.

With the strong play of the offensive line and the confidence of Marlon Mack, the team could be in for a big season running the football. Hopefully the production remains from late last season and the team is able to take pressure off of Brissett. The key to winning this first game against the Chargers is going to rely on Mack and the running game.