Dec 22, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) drops back to pass against the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Last week, I grumbled that the Colts produce only 2.29 running plays per game in which the offensive linemen, tight ends and backs all succeed in their blocking assignments. In this week’s 23-7 shellacking of the Chiefs, Indy had only three such plays. Two were a 5-yard run by Donald Brown and a 6-yard run by Trent Richardson. The latter could have gone for far more if Richardson had made a better decision, but I’m not in the mood to beat that dead horse. It’s Christmas, after all (merry Christmas, everybody!).
The other play went like this.
The Colts’ running game is like a particularly complex slot machine. Each slot has a bunch of junk in it, and even when all the linemen hit sevens, the tight ends, fullbacks and receivers often land on lemons. Sometimes Pep Hamilton must feel like he’s pumping in quarter after quarter for nothing.
But every once in a while, those sevens line up, the running back makes the right choice, and bam. Brown was nine yards upfield and had a full head of steam before he was touched.
Not counting that play, the Colts ran for 84 yards on 33 carries in another mediocre run-blocking performance by the offensive line. Xavier Nixon, the undrafted rookie, had the best run-blocking score on the team, at just 75%.
Meanwhile, the pass blocking was generally sound for the third straight game. Nixon coughed up a sack, the first one a lineman has allowed since week 13, but they combined for only three pressures and five hits allowed against a team that came in with 43 sacks on the year. Unsurprisingly, Andrew Luck has seven touchdowns and one interception during the line’s three-game renaissance, after putting up five touchdowns and five interceptions in the first five games I tracked.
The line’s communication has really improved in these past few games. On this play, the Chiefs bring an overload blitz, with four rushers attacking the left side of the Colts’ offensive line. The Colts spot it, and everyone but the right tackle slides left:
The Chiefs rushers run into a wall of bodies (Trent Richardson lays a nice block on Eric Berry) and Luck isn’t touched as he fires a 17-yard completion to Da’Rick Rogers. Good stuff.
One more thing before I get to the breakdowns: Khaled Holmes, the Colts’ fourth-round draft pick this spring, has struggled to get on the field. He was passed over in favor of Nixon when the team needed a new guard, despite Nixon being a recent practice squad call-up.
On Sunday, Holmes played his first six offensive snaps of the season as a sixth lineman. He wasn’t good – he was outstanding. He succeeded on all three run blocks and all three pass blocks, and he moved his man back consistently. Here he is locking onto Frank Zombo on a Richardson run:
And here’s his foot, which is all that’s visible because he has moved Zombo out of the screen:
I’m cheating a little here; the camera zoomed in on the play, which is part of the reason Holmes isn’t visible. Still, it shows how effectively he kept Zombo outside. That happened every time Holmes was in. As it happens, Nixon screwed up a pull block on the play. That’s him helping Ricardo Mathews off the ground on the right. Mathews was the only guy Nixon managed to block.
Six plays isn’t nearly enough of a sample to judge Holmes effectively, and in fairness, Nixon was much better this week than last week. But Holmes looked terrific on Sunday. My only guess is that he’s having some difficulty learning the playbook and his assignments, because I’m not sure what else would be keeping him off the field.
DISCLAIMER: Grading offensive line play is inevitably subjective, since it’s impossible to know assignments and how the linemen are coached. These scores are based on whether the linemen appeared to succeed in their assignments, based on their apparent targets and how the plays developed. I assign all blocks a grade of ‘+’ (good block), ‘-’ (bad block) or ‘/’ (not involved, usually meaning the lineman couldn’t find anyone to block); ‘/’ plays are not scored. My charting table is included at the bottom of this post. I welcome criticism and commentary.