The Indianapolis Colts fought their way to a playoff berth in 2018 large in part due to the spectacular turn around of the offensive line. Despite being the veteran leader of the bunch, left tackle Anthony Castonzo wasn’t talked about much.
Castonzo, who missed the first five games due to a nagging hamstring injury, return in Week 6 against the Jets. His presence helped solidify the Colts offensive line en route to the unit allowing the fewest sacks in the NFL.
Still, the veteran left tackle was rarely talked about this season. Despite some inconsistencies throughout the season, Castonzo’s 2018 campaign was one of his finest both in run-blocking and pass protection.
Here, we dive into some of the strengths and weaknesses Castonzo showed in his eighth season with the former showing up on a consistent basis:
One common aspect Castonzo showed as a strength was his ability to match power from defenders, specifically a bull rush.
Below, in his first game of the season, Jets linebacker Brandon Copeland tries to go speed to power on Castonzo with a bull rush. Castonzo shows great footwork with a fluid kick step, and his quick punch allows him to win with inside leverage on initial contact. Though he’s pushed back a bit, a strong base along with his hands inside allows him to win the snap.
The next clip comes against the Jaguars in Week 14. Edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue tries a bull rush on Castonzo. Ngakoue actually gets inside, but the left tackle neutralizes it with a strong base while keeping his feet moving to re-establish leverage. By the time Ngakoue reverts to a swim move, it’s too late.
Castonzo’s strength constantly allows him to recover even if he’s beat on initial contact by a defender.
An example of that below came against Kansas City Chiefs outside linebacker Justin Houston in the AFC divisional round. Houston wins initial contact getting inside and driving Castonzo back, but the latter’s base is strong enough to help him recover, which gives Andrew Luck enough time to get the throw off on third down. Tight end Eric Ebron wound up dropping the pass.
Tying into the aspect of strength working for Castonzo in pass protection, his ability to anchor down and control a defender showed up every week.
Below, the Bills blitz six with the Colts in 11 personnel. Lined up across from Eddie Yarbrough, Castonzo’s quick get-off allows him to beat the edge rusher to the spot. Once Castonzo has established leverage at the point of attack, his strong anchor allows him to control Yarbrough’s attempt at a rip move.
The play-action helped give Castonzo a split-second head start, but he barely loses any ground thanks to a strong anchor and sound technique.
Another example comes against veteran and Bills best pass rusher Jerry Hughes below. Castonzo actually gets beat inside for a second, but a strong anchor still allows him to control Hughes’ momentum while guiding him to the ground.
Castonzo’s strong lower half and strong punch buys him enough time to let Luck find Mack as checkdown for a 29-yard touchdown.
While Castonzo showed off his strength all season, he also made an impact working off of combo blocks with left guard Quenton Nelson.
In the following clip against the Raiders, Castonzo and Nelson perform a “Queen” block on Kony Ealy. After selling a zone look to begin, Castonzo and Nelson come back to the double team after the linebacker level stays the same. Castonzo then identifies his second-level target in play-side linebacker Marquel Lee.
Once Nelson established leverage, Castonzo climbs to the second level to engage Lee. Though he couldn’t keep Lee engaged on the block, Castonzo’s work help extended the 14-yard run.
Another combo block with Nelson below, Castonzo gets help turning P.J. Hall upfield on the combo in a flawless example of working shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip. Castonzo maintains leverage on the defensive tackle and continues driving until he’s is out of the play.
Castonzo also worked well picking up stunts. In the Week 17 game against the Titans, who are running man-free coverage with a six-man blitz below, the veteran gets leverage on his initial block of a slanting defensive lineman and then quickly picks up the stunting linebacker to help keep Luck clean en route to an 18-yard pick up to Hilton on the crosser on third down.
Now onto the facets of the game where Castonzo struggled most. The biggest recurring theme with Castonzo was handling the speed rush.
Below, the Raiders are running Cover 0 with a double A-gap blitz. Castonzo has a solid get-off, but Bruce Irvin beats him with nice footwork and speed while running the arc. Irvin turns his shoulders as he gets upfield to give Castonzo a harder target to punch, which works perfectly for the edge rusher.
It wasn’t the main pressure on the play, but it is a common example of how he gets beat.
Another speed rush below, Ngakoue gets first contact inside and turns his shoulders to neutralize Castonzo’s length as the latter fails to land a disrupting punch. This play was called back due to defensive holding but it’s just another example that Castonzo can get beaten with speed.
Something else Castonzo struggled with at times was simply playing too upright. Below, Yarbrough is chipped by Ebron at the line, which gives Castonzo plenty of time to get to his spot.
While he got there, Castonzo was far too upright at contact as Yarbrough kept his pad level low giving him all of the leverage. Castonzo can’t recover, and it leads to the defender forcing Luck to rush a throw that should have been made.
Luck probably could have climbed the pocket a bit, but the pressure from the edge disrupted the throw.
Castonzo also struggled with it when run blocking at times. It wasn’t an issue most of the time, but it did happen on several occasions. On the RPO outside zone run below, Castonzo loses initial contact allowing Ealy to control inside leverage, which happened in part due to his upper body being so upright at contact.
He can’t keep the edge engaged as his man makes the tackle for a short gain.
You know what scene has become all too redundant in football? When you hear about some high school recruit who is crashing the server over at rivals.com because he supposedly runs a 4.20 40. In case you haven’t noticed, no one runs a 4.20 40 at the NFL combine, which to my knowledge is the only place where it is credibly timed.
So therefore, nobody runs a 4.20—not Deion, not Chris Johnson and definitely not some high school senior chasing jackrabbits in the deep South. In the end, it’s all a run-around to make sure he gets signed by a big-time D-I school. Very few people do it the hard way anymore; and when it happens, it feels good to be a gangsta. Just ask Anthony Castonzo.
If you want the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, I’ll give it to you, but I can’t do it on the Internet for Anthony’s sake. I mean, he’s a certifiable professional athlete now. But what I will tell you is that Anthony Castonzo doesn’t necessarily fit the description of your prototypical NFL draft prospect.
For starters, Castonzo’s high-school football career was a far cry from that of the record-shattering blue chips that he will soon be sharing a union with. Truth be told, in his days at Lake Zurich High School, AC probably had more metal in the brace keeping his surgically-repaired knee in place (he sat out his entire sophomore year with a serious knee injury) than he did decorating his bedroom mantle in the form of trophies.
As an underclassman, he was big. And slow. As an upperclassman he was bigger, and although he could now fend off the process of erosion in a foot race, he still wasn’t necessarily fast.
In other words, if you saw him wearing a Don Beebe’s House of Speed t-shirt, you would have thought he bought it at the Salvation Army—that’s about the best way I can describe it. So when his high school career concluded and Les Miles wasn’t on the Castonzo’s doorstep off of Midlothian Rd. in Lake Zurich like some bizarro scene from the Blind Side, Anthony took matters into his own hands.
Forgoing countless academic scholarships to widely respected universities across the country, he decided to attend Fork Union, which sounds more like a restaurant inside Ogilvie Transportation Center than a Military Institute in Virginia, but that’s exactly what it was.
After dressing like a G.I. Joe and making his bed like G.I. Jane for an entire school year, Castonzo had finally blossomed into a legitimate D-I football recruit, and a good one at that. Virginia Tech called, Duke wrote and Boston College offered. Now it was like a scene from the Blind Side. Minus the whole adoption, overcoming illiteracy sub-plot.
The only difference of course was his ACT score (36), and his aspirations to pursue the field of biochemistry. He had the football prowess of the Icebox with the academic aptitude of the kid that was drawing up the “Annexation of Puerto Rico” in a double-breast-pocketed plaid. How could he lose?
He didn’t. In two short years he went from receiving the same amount of attention from high school females as yours truly (none) to shaking up protein with Matty Ice and likely being surrounded by adoring Irish-Catholic girls in Beantown. He became the first true freshman to start on the O-line for BC in 10 years and eventually became a First-Team All-ACC left tackle. Even more impressive though, he was named to the Playboy Preseason All-America team as a senior.
Now I never thought Anthony Castonzo was going to be the first pro athlete in the history of Lake Zurich High School, or even fathomed that a kid with worse facial hair than Orlando Bloom would ever make it into Playboy, but he has defied odds.
Of course, when you’re proving people wrong it always helps to be blessed with a 6’7”, 285 lb. frame, but that doesn’t diminish what Anthony has accomplished at all. He finds himself as the first-round choice of the Indianapolis Colts in the 2011 NFL draft, and if labor unions lock him out, he can fall back on a 3.9 GPA from Boston College. Not bad at all for the city that was No. 64 on Frommer’s list of “100 Best Places to Raise Your Family.” Not bad at all.