For the first time this season, the entire left side of the offensive line was healthy. Colts fans have been waiting to see how the combination of Anthony Castonzo, Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly would perform. The hope has been that the trio could do a lot to keep the pocket clean for Andrew Luck and to open big holes for ball carriers.
At a high level view, this starting group surrendered no sacks and blocked for a ground game that averaged 5.5 yards per carry. This is certainly the type of statistical production the Colts were hoping for when they picked two offensive linemen very early in the 2018 NFL Draft.
As we do each week, we will break down how rookie Quenton Nelson performed against the Jets. Spending the sixth overall pick on a guard is certainly not common practice and so I am curious to see if and how Nelson can live up to his draft billing. This week is particularly interesting given that one play seems to have defined his game, so we will start with reviewing that play and see if concern is legitimate.
If you have a Twitter account and follow the Colts you’ve had a chance to become very familiar with this play. It was originally displayed from a broadcast angle and looked embarrassing for Nelson. From the sideline, it looked like Nelson was completely destroyed by Jets defensive lineman Leonard Williams (#92). Fun story about Williams, he was the sixth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Once the end zone camera angle became available there are a few things we can determine about the play.
There is no doubt that Williams stunting with Henry Anderson (#96) was particularly effective. Nelson would have had to re-anchor no matter what happened after Williams got up into his shoulders.
It is also clear that something bad happened after initial contact, which led Nelson to completely lose his balance. William’s initial blow created momentum to Nelson’s outside but that momentum suddenly stops, which leads to Nelson falling completely backward with no resistance.
The second pause highlights where Nelson trips after his foot collides with Ryan Kelly to his inside, he may have been stepped on — it is hard to clearly see from the film.
Ultimately, no — Quenton Nelson didn’t get completely embarrassed or otherwise destroyed by Leonard Williams. His inside foot/ankle clearly got tangled with Ryan Kelly.
It is also clear from this view of the film that, despite Twitter rants and nonsensical arguments with Colts.com writing staff, Williams had no impact on the outcome of the play. It has been suggested that his “pressure” caused Luck to make a bad throw and that Nelson was to blame.
In reality, Nelson’s trip surprised Williams and sent him to the turf. The film shows that Luck locked on to Chester Rogers on a crossing route when he saw that he had a step on the defender, and had cleared the middle linebacker. He didn’t see Darron Lee at all and led Rogers with a throw that was easily picked off.
Luck doesn’t even look at Williams or acknowledge him while he is on the ground 2 1⁄2 yards away.
As is customary in our film review pieces, I like to start with snaps that display the weakest performance first.
On this play, Nelson is lined up across from Williams and loses to a lateral move. He is left chasing. Fortunately, Luck gets rid of the ball before Williams becomes a factor. In fact, I don’t think Luck had any idea he was there.
Still, this is a bad rep for Nelson and could have otherwise led to a hit or sack.
After all of the attention that Nelson received for the first play in our series, it would make sense if fans had the impression that Williams had his way with Nelson all day. We will see that this is entirely inaccurate.
On this play, Williams and Nelson face each other one-on-one. Nelson controls Williams throughout the entire play. Luck ends up throwing the ball essentially over Williams but don’t let this give you to the impression that Williams was effective. He was driven out of the pocket and had a wall in front of him.
Luck had tons of room and chose to throw to his right.
Here is another example where Williams attempt to make an outside move on Nelson, this time on a slant. He is met immediately and gets forced wide left of the pocket. Luck feels no pressure from Williams here.
While I traditionally reserve all of the weak plays for the beginning of a film review, I wanted to show Nelson and Williams first.
Here we see a stunt that attacks the left side of the line and causes some confusion. You will notice that Nelson and Kelly get a little tied up here but pressure comes into Luck’s face when it should have been handled more efficiently. I also noted that Anthony Castonzo pushed the blocker into Nelson, which may have helped knock him off balance.
Either way, not a great pass blocking snap.
Unlike the previous play, we see a stunt across the line by Leonard Williams and Nelson is ready to engage him right away. He forces him wide of the pocket and allows Luck to make a clean throw.
Anderson and Williams stunt across Ryan Kelly’s face on this play but with a much different outcome. Nelson anchors effectively and keeps Williams from making progress into the pocket.
Luck gets the ball out before taking a hit after an effective bull rush against Castonzo.
If the first play in this film review created concerns about Nelson’s anchor or strength, this should help. Nelson faces Henry Anderson one-on-one on this play. Remember that Anderson has been effective with the Jets and has earned some attention in the media for his efforts.
Here, rookie Nelson mirrors and anchors throughout the entire snap. Luck throws a pass short after he gets to his third read but Nelson had Anderson under control in front of him.
This is another example of a match-up between Nelson and Anderson. Once again, Nelson takes Anderson’s best shot and redirects him out of the pocket and leaves him grasping to try to impact Lucks’ throw.
This is another example of Nelson winning a one-on-one battle. This time he mirrors the entire way and ends up getting the defensive lineman to over-commit before smashing him to the turf.
The reality is that Quenton Nelson faced another challenging day with Leonard Williams and Henry Anderson both capable of pressuring the quarterback. The two have combined for 5.5 sacks this season and left Sunday’s game without improving that number.
There are a couple of plays where Nelson struggled a bit. He allowed pressure on a stunt and clearly got beat by a lateral move by Williams early in the game. He also tripped and now has to address a rather embarrassing piece of film that has been used to suggest that he was manhandled and easily tossed to the turf. Despite these challenges, Luck was not sacked on the day.
More importantly, much of the day saw Nelson getting the best of Williams and Anderson. He took on stunts, slants, and bull rush attempts effectively. He kept the pocket clean throughout the majority of the game and had another impressive success rate when the game was over. Nothing about the Jets game creates reason for concern about Nelson or indicates that he is not having a positive impact on the game.