Pep Hamilton needs to accept his players’ limitations

Pep Hamilton has been doing some interesting things to get his receivers open and give his players chances to make plays. I touched on this a couple weeks ago in discussing his opening drive in Houston, which was impeccable but didn’t lead to any points because of poor execution.

Yet in reviewing the film of some Colts’ plays, I’ve started to worry that Hamilton is not accepting the ample limitations of some of his players.

For example, this is the Colts’ first running play in their disaster of a 38-8 loss to St. Louis.

Play2shot1It’s a toss sweep to Trent Richardson. On first glance, it seems to be a well-designed play. With Mike McGlynn and Gosder Cherilus pulling behind Coby Fleener and LaVon Brazill to take out the trailing linebacker and cornerback, everyone on the play side should be accounted for.

But that’s Chris Long lined up across from Fleener and Alec Ogletree across from Brazill. Rather predictably, things go south immediately after Richardson gets the ball. Long barrels through Fleener’s block and gets into the backfield:

Play2shot2Long’s presence forces McGlynn to help on him, and Cherilus is left to decide between blocking his man and blocking McGlynn’s. Brazill, meanwhile, is on his heels and about to lose his block, Samson Satele doesn’t even have a hand on Michael Brockers, and Hugh Thornton isn’t able to get to the linebacker fast enough.

When Richardson gets to the corner, he sees this:

Screen shot 2013-11-23 at 9.58.29 AMI’ve defended Richardson frequently since he came to Indianapolis, but in this situation, he needs to be more aware. He should have seen as he passed that McGlynn was getting stuck on Long and realized that the blocking was falling apart. He needs to drive straight at the corner, grab a few yards and move on to the next play. Instead, he stops all his momentum and tries to cut back, leading to this ugly scene:

Screen shot 2013-11-23 at 10.00.56 AMThat’s no fewer than seven Rams in position to make the tackle. Rather than picking up a few yards by barreling into the corner on the outside, Richardson settles for a big pile-up and no gain.

As I wrote a few weeks back, I am in favor of running stretch plays and end arounds to get Richardson some room to operate and allow him to break tackles. He made the wrong read here, but he was terrific on zone stretches in college and still has untapped potential on such plays.

The personnel are the issue on this play. It seems Hamilton has not yet accepted that Dwayne Allen, in all his power blocking glory, is not walking through that door. Fleener is a below-average blocker at best and has little hope of stuffing Long one-on-one. Backup tight end Jack Doyle is a far superior blocker, but he has just one catch on two targets this year, and Hamilton seems to want to keep Fleener on the field as a pass-catching threat. While that’s understandable, Hamilton needs to recognize the situation here and get Doyle on the field.

Similarly, putting Brazill on a linebacker is a poor choice. Brazill is 5’11″, 200 lbs. and a mediocre blocker, while Ogletree is 6’3″, 242 lbs. Maybe Reggie Wayne makes that block, but with Wayne gone, Darrius Heyward-Bey needs to be in that spot. He’s not good for much else, after all; Hamilton might as well get some use out of his decent blocking skills.

One more quick example of poor personnel use: when the Colts had first and goal at the 1 early in the fourth quarter, Jeff Linkenbach was assigned to pull out and block Robert Quinn on play action. Quinn is an outstanding end, and he easily beat Linkenbach and brought down Andrew Luck for a sack. Here, in the moment Linkenbach first makes contact with Quinn, you can tell he’s going to lose, as his chest is flat against the back of Quinn’s shoulder:Link

Hamilton has improved as a play-caller, and the Colts are still a respectable 10th in offensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders, despite losing five key offensive players. But at some point, Hamilton needs to start thinking outside the box and compensating for the weaknesses in his personnel, rather than stubbornly sticking with schemes and assignments that would have worked if everyone had stayed healthy.

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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.

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