Welcome to the second annual edition of "Players We Watched," a preseason film review of individual players. The importance of preseason lies not in the final score, but in the performances of individual players, many of whom are fighting for our jobs. Even in those performances, take everything with a grain of salt.
We shouldn't let the small sample size of one preseason game reverse our previous notions of a player, but merely add it to the pile of evidence built up for a player's relatively poor or impressive reputation.
Keeping that in mind, the first player I re-watched when reviewing the Colts' loss to the Bills was the entire first-team offensive line, which received mixed reactions from fans. Personally, my initial reaction when watching the game in real-time was largely negative, especially for the interior line. But what would a closer look at the film say?
The first-team offensive line (consisting of LT Anthony Castonzo, LG Donald Thomas, C Samson Satele, RG Mike McGlynn and RT Gosder Cherilus) was in the game for 18 plays, which was the first three drives for the Colts.
The drive started out with a quick Andrew Luck completion to Reggie Wayne on a five-yard out route. Sounds like a good plan right? Don't give Luck a chance at getting hit, get in the flow of things, etc. Well, it sounds good, but Samson Satele nearly allowed disaster to happen, as Bills DT Kyle Williams shot the gap between Satele and Thomas immediately, pressuring Luck.
The Colts followed up the five-yard gain with a power set: a fullback, tight end (Fleener) at H-back and Jeff Linkenbach in as a tight end. On the play, Donald Thomas pulls to the right and clears the way for a six-yard gain by Ballard. Good blocking by everybody here, but it's also a very heavy set. Unfortunately, they followed it up with a one-yard loss by Ballard and a pulling Castonzo and FB Stanley Havili got caught up behind the line.
On the following play, Luck received a clean pocket and hit T.Y. Hilton for a nine-yard gaine. But, on third down a well-timed blitz by Buffalo allowed a linebacker a free run at Luck.
This drive looked much cleaner for the Colts' offensive line, outside of the cadence problem that led to a sack of Luck. The Colts started out with a bootleg to the left by Luck, which gave him plenty of room to make an accurate throw to Coby Fleener for a 14-yard gain. After the ensuing "cadence sack", the Colts caught the Bills blitzing and ran a draw for Ballard around the left side that gained 13 yards. I was impressed by Castonzo's mobility on the play, watch as he sprints down the field and takes the corner out of the play:
Pass protection would be fairly good on the next two plays of the drive (Thomas gives up a hurry after a few seconds on one play.
Unfortunately, the drive stalled when Fleener fumbled the ball after a long catch-and-run play.
Again, a pretty clean look for the Colts' offensive line. In four passing plays, Cherilus allowed a pressure on the right side once while MikMcGlynn got pushed back into the pocket once. The Colts ran the ball twice in that drive, once for six yards (Good blocking by all) and one for one yard (Thomas got pushed back into Donald Brown's run lane).
I have to admit, it wasn't as bad as I thought. There were some protection breakdowns that I'd like to see get fixed, but the product as a whole wasn't bad. Kudos to fans who told me I was wrong yesterday.
What does this mean going forward?
Nothing really. As I said, one preseason game shouldn't be enough to change anybody's mind. There are still serious concerns about about McGlynn and Satele (who received the only negative grades PFF awarded Colts' linemen), and I'm still not a fan of the depth. If either of the three "solid" OL go down with injury, the Colts are right back where they started.
It's worth noting, however, that there may be potential in the group after all. Watch the group as the preseason progresses, especially the communication between Castonzo and Thomas, which seemed inconsistent on Sunday.If that improves, the difference between this year's line and last year's will be evident to all.
The only reason Emmit Cleary isn't starting at right guard ahead of McGlynn is the coaches are waiting for 3rd round draft pick Hugh Thornton to get healthy enough to practice. Ijalana can be the backup left tackle. Holmes the backup center. Cleary can play right guard, or slide out to right tackle in a pinch. Better than Linkenbach, at least. In any event, somebody other than Mike McGlynn needs to open the season at right guard.
@WyattL I agree that we need an upgrade at RG (and probably C) but I believe the coaches are putting the best they have out there. McGlynn may not be physically more talented than the younger guys but they must trust his experience. I certainly don't believe there's any conspiracy to keep a better player from starting.
Man, with wheels like that, you start feeling like you should have some tackle-eligible pass plays in the book and see if he can catch. ;)
Thanks Kyle. Does this make you agree with PFF's assessment of Satele and McGlynn graded to a -1.0? What did the other three grade?
Also, on that first play. Was the gap responsibility the C or the G? It seemed to me that Thomas didn't block anyone on the play.
@smonroe The first play was pretty obviously a blown assignment. Thomas clearly things Satele is getting Williams, and Satele thinks Thomas is. From the way it plays out, I think Satele was supposed to block him and just sort of forgot. Your center blowing assignments is obviously not good, but it's better than your shiny new free agent guard getting utterly dusted by a simple swim.
The best block on the Ballard run was delivered by Luck, who used his physicality to put a heady block on a pursuing backer, which turned an almost certain loss into a double-digit gain. I love all the little things he does that make the difference.