Walden doesn’t suck, Werner shows flashes

Erik Walden brings down Eli Manning. (Photo credit: Bill Kostroun, AP)

Erik Walden brings down Eli Manning. (Photo credit: Bill Kostroun, AP)

The Colts won their second preseason game 20-12 over the Giants last Sunday, submitting a reasonably sound all-around performance that helped soothe the nerves of fans (and a certain owner) who were freaking out over their 44-20 loss to Buffalo a week earlier. In my notes on that second preseason game, I pointed out that linebackers Erik Walden and Bjoern Werner looked good for the Colts, with Walden posting a sack and Werner making some decent plays. This despite constant fretting from almost everyone who pays attention to the Colts that Werner will never amount to anything and that Walden, for lack of a better word, sucks.

In reading around on the interwebs, I gathered that most Colts pundits felt good about Walden’s play but thought Werner was up-and-down. Despite the Indy pass rush generating six sacks (five by backups and one by Walden), many expressed ongoing concerns about the pass rush.

Hoping to prove them wrong, I re-watched every play for which Walden and Werner were on the field and tracked their performances. The results are in the table below. As it turns out, the pundits were (for once) largely correct: Walden put in a pretty solid showing, while Werner looked raw and erratic.

My methods, of course, are less than perfect. For example, I counted every pass rush that didn’t result in at least a pressure as a “poor play,” when in fact pass rushing is an intricate dance that goes on for an entire game; one seemingly ineffective move can set up a good one later, and sometimes the ball comes out too quickly for a decent move to work. But I tried to focus on the ultimate results of Walden and Werner’s individual efforts and whether they accomplished what they wanted to on any given play, and the goal of any pass rush should be to at least pressure the quarterback.

Empty slots indicate the player wasn’t on the field for that play, and there’s an empty row signifying the end of every Giants drive. The yellow “no impact” slots represent plays on which the player was “setting the edge” (containing the outside run to his side of the field) or dropped in coverage but was not called into action and didn’t do anything significantly wrong. I assigned a “poor play” grade for coverages in which the player was in noticeably bad position on his man.

Play result Walden Werner Key
Run 4 Sets edge Excellent play
Incomplete Drops in coverage, man is open Decent play or good second effort
Run 3 Gets off block, helps on tackle No impact
Incomplete Drops in coverage, man is open Poor play
Pass 5 QB pressure Terrible play
Run 0 Sets edge, beats block and helps on tackle
Pass 9 Pass rush blocked
Run 0 Sets edge
Run 8 Chases down run across field, pushes RB out of bounds Pancaked by TE Adrien Robinson
Pass 20 Sets edge, then drops in coverage
Run 3 Sets edge
Run 2 Sets edge
Incomplete Pass rush blocked
Run 6 Trouble getting off block, but helps on tackle
Run 3 Sets edge, can’t get off block
Interception QB pressure
Sack -13 Beats RT David Diehl for sack Drops in coverage
Run 3 Sets edge Sets edge
Incomplete Chipped by RB, pass rush blocked Pass rush blocked
Incomplete Pass rush blocked Drops in coverage
Pass 16 Drops in coverage, man gets open QB pressure
Run 5 Sets edge, gets off block and makes tackle Sets edge
Incomplete Pass rush blocked Should have a sack, but can’t make tackle
Pass 11 Drops in coverage Drops in coverage
Run -3 Sets edge Slow getting off block, but helps on tackle
Pass 20 Pancaked by LT Will Beatty Double teamed, pass rush blocked
Incomplete Pass rush blocked Pass rush blocked
Pass 5 Pass rush blocked Chipped by RB, QB pressure
Pass 4 Pass rush blocked Pass rush blocked
Run 8 Sets edge Blown up by TE Robinson on running play
Run -4 Sets edge Beats RT Diehl, wraps RB up in TFL
Incomplete Pass rush blocked Pass rush blocked
Incomplete Pass rush blocked Drops in coverage; should be completion to his man, but throw is behind him
Run 11 Sets edge
Pass 9 Pass rush blocked
Pass 8 Pass rush blocked
Incomplete Double teamed, pass rush blocked
Incomplete Drops in coverage
Run 2 Sets edge, pancaked by TE Larry Donnell
Run 3 Sets edge
Pass 6 Pass rush blocked
Run 2 Sets edge
Sack -5 Sets edge
Incomplete Drops in coverage
Pass 7 Drops in coverage
Run 5 Sets edge, blocked out of middle run
Pass 8 Sets edge
Incomplete Pass rush blocked
Sack -6 QB pressure

The totals for Walden: two excellent plays, five good plays, 12 poor plays, one terrible play.

For Werner: one excellent play, six good plays, 14 poor plays, three terrible plays.

A few notes:

  • Colts fans who want Werner to start over Walden are getting ahead of themselves. They made the same number of combined good and excellent plays (seven), and the only thing that stopped one of Werner’s good plays from being excellent was that he couldn’t wrap up Eli Manning for a sack. But Walden made two fewer poor plays and two fewer terrible plays. Assuming they would play roughly twice as much in a full game (Walden played until the last series of the first half against the Giants, while Werner skipped two first half series and played the first two series of the second half), that prorates to eight more negative plays. That’s a significant number in an NFL game. Given the Colts’ clear goal of winning as much as possible as quickly as possible while Andrew Luck is on his rookie contract, it doesn’t make sense to force feed Werner when Walden is markedly better, at least on running plays.
  • Speaking of running plays, Walden made five of his seven positive plays and only one negative play on runs. Werner had
    Bjoern will crush you. (Photo credit: Matt Kryger, The Indianpolis Star)

    Bjoern will crush you. (Photo credit: Matt Kryger, The Indianpolis Star)

    two positive plays and four negative ones on runs. Conversely, Walden had two positive and 12 negative plays on passes, while Werner had five positive and 13 negative. At this point, it’s clear that Werner is better on passing downs and Walden is better on running downs.

  • Walden tried two spin moves in the pass rush. Both were completely ineffective. The guy who used to wear number 93 for the Colts, Dwight Freeney, was the master of this move. When he did it, he would be on the tackle’s outside shoulder when he came out of his spin. Both times Walden tried it, he wound up squarely in the middle of the tackle’s chest. Here’s hoping he either gets better at the spin or retires it.
  • Walden’s persistence on run downs is one of his biggest strengths. On all five of his “decent” run plays, he was initially blocked, but kept fighting and either chased down a ball carrier or tackled him from the side as he came by. Werner gave up on run plays much more quickly and would half-heartedly jog toward the action when initially blocked.
  • Werner was a different beast on passing plays. His combination of size and quickness clearly bothered both Diehl and Beatty.
  • In one of his worst plays, Werner got obliterated by a tight end on an eight-yard run on fourth-and-inches in the Colts’ red zone. But he made his best play of the night on the very next play when he beat Diehl and made an open-field tackle on David Wilson for a four-yard loss. That ability to bounce back is a good sign for a young player.
  • Walden dropped in coverage five times, and on three of those, his man was clearly open. Werner dropped in coverage seven times and looked far more comfortable, only letting his man get wide open once (it should have been a touchdown, but Manning threw behind tight end Brandon Myers).
  • On another note, I didn’t analyze him in detail, but linebacker Caesar Rayford looked monstrous on several of the plays I broke down. He’s huge (6-7, 267) and has an excellent initial burst, and he generated two of the Colts six sacks and drew holds on at least two plays (one wasn’t called). I don’t think there’s any way the Colts let him go when they make their initial cuts to 75 players on Tuesday.

Thoughts? Responses? Questions? Suggestions? Leave a comment below or email me at bengundy@gmail.com.

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Ben Gundy

Ben is a displaced Colts fan living in Pittsburgh who has seen far too many replays of Nick Harper being tackled by Ben Roethlisberger.

2 Responses to Walden doesn’t suck, Werner shows flashes

  1. Avatar of Erik Grogan Erik Grogan says:

    You push me to be a better writer. Don’t stop writing Ben. Great piece.

  2. Avatar of Ben Gundy Ben Gundy says:

    Thanks Erik, I appreciate it!

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