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Film Room: Mo Alie-Cox breakout game against the Vikings

Alie-Cox finally broke out against the Vikings

Minnesota Vikings v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In Chris Ballard’s first year as General Manager of the Indianapolis Colts back in 2017, he decided to sign VCU Power Forward Mo Alie-Cox to play tight end for the Colts. Despite not playing football since his freshman year of high school, Ballard decided to take a chance on the intangibles of the towering tight end who stands at 6’5” 265 pounds. Surprisingly, Alie-Cox found a role pretty quickly once he was called up in 2018 and has emerged as one of the league’s better blocking tight ends.

While being a great blocking tight end is phenomenal, there always seemed to be more with Alie-Cox. He enjoyed a little bit of success in 2018 with Andrew Luck as a pass catcher but a thumb injury and sudden quarterback change led to an unproductive season in 2019. Now, finally healthy and forced into a starting role, we finally saw the Mo Alie-Cox breakout as he caught five passes for 111 yards against the Vikings on Sunday. He was also given a grade of 94 by Pro Football Focus, making this the highest graded tight end performance in years for their site.

So why was he finally able to find success in this game? Today we look at the film to see why he was so successful in his breakout game.

Run Blocking

Let’s start with Alie-Cox’s bread and butter. It is rare for a basketball player to make the transition to football as quickly as he has but it is even more rare to see one take on blocking as well as he has. Most of the success stories that we have heard from this transition (Jimmy Graham, Antonio Gates) have been average at best at blocking in their careers. This hasn’t been the case for Alie-Cox who is an absolute tank in this department.

We won’t go clip by clip for blocking as I know you all want to get to the pass catching part of this film study. I put his best run blocking moments here into a little thread. I do wish he would get a bit lower and drive his legs a little better but besides that, he is outstanding. Look at the confidence the Colts have to use him like a sixth linemen to block defensive linemen in the run game. His big hands are so powerful at the point of attack that he just locks up players. He opened some massive holes on Sunday in the run game.

Passing Game

Getting to the fun part now, how excited was everyone reading this to see Alie-Cox finally get some targets in the passing game? It feels like years ago since he made that one handed catch against the Raiders and we were all talking about how amazing he could be in this offense. He finally got another chance this Sunday and looked outstanding. Five catches on six targets for 111 yards is a great start to this season and hopefully a sign of more to come.

First clip is something I have been wanting to see for so long with Alie-Cox. He is an absolute tank after the catch as it is insanely hard for defenders to bring down his gigantic frame in the open field. While he doesn’t run through anybody like I would have hoped on this play, I do love the play design to get the ball to him in space on a tight end screen play. Next time I hope he cuts it back behind Ryan Kelly because he probably left a good 10 yards or so on the field here. Just love this design so much for the massive tight end.

Mo Alie-Cox is never going to be a great route runner that wins with his quickness in this league. He is simply too big and stiff to win that way. The way that he can win though is by using his massive frame to be physical throughout his routes and just overpower defenders. This is exactly what he does here. He is just running a deep dig route but look at how he fights through contact in the route and creates separation at the peak with his strength. This isn’t a push off by any stretch of the imagination, it is just a bigger man using his frame to move a smaller defender. Love this nuance in his game to realize that he can overpower defenders in the passing game as well as the run game.

On top of Alie-Cox creating room for himself, the play-calling was also outstanding by Reich and company to scheme the big tight end open. They took advantage of this young Vikings secondary by doing a lot of post-corner and sail combos to cross defenders and get them confused. Here Alie-Cox runs a deep corner and he is left completely wide open as the linebackers stay too far underneath and the safety is late getting over. It is also great to see some of the tight end plays from the 2018 playbook working back into the offense and seeing more vertical plays for these tight ends.

Similar idea on the sail concept here. The Colts attack the Vikings cover one by having Michael Pittman Jr run deep to draw the over top safety. Alie-Cox’s man loses him on the deep out and the result is a big gain. As much as this performance is on him for making these big plays, it is also on the coaching staff for understanding how to attack and exploit this defense through the air.

Final clip here is all Alie-Cox and yet another snapshot of his potential. It is a simple isolation route at the top of the screen against cover one for the Vikings. Alie-Cox gets a bit of separation off the line and Philip Rivers shows great trust in throwing it up to his tight end. Alie-Cox is then able to make an outstanding catch in double coverage and hang onto it through the contact. This is what we need to see more of in the red zone from the Colts. How many corners (defenders even) can stop a fade or corner route one on one with him in the red zone? He is a size mismatch and Rivers now truly understands that too.

Final Thoughts

Overall this is what I’ve been waiting for the last two years. The potential with Alie-Cox has been evident since day one and it is great to see that finally come to fruition on Sunday. The Colts signed him with the knowledge that this development could take a while before he is truly ready to be an impact player. The time to unleash him though is now.

Going forward, I’d be tempted to have a Alie-Cox and Jack Doyle serve as TE1a and TE1b once everybody is healthy. Both are outstanding players but Alie-Cox needs to see the field and get more targets in this offense. The potential production is through the roof with him. This isn’t simply over reacting to one big game, this is finally seeing the potential on the field. Hopefully the Colts draw up more gameplans for him going forward.