Colts Key Matchup: Gardner vs. Putzier

Strongside linebacker Gilbert Gardner will be tested by tight end, Jeb Putzier; a player that new Texans head coach Gary Kubiak liked so much in Denver that he quickly snatched him up as a free agent. Greg Talmage breaks down this key matchup for our ColtPower Insiders...

Personally, I must admit I had no intention of breaking down this matchup until I read the transcript of Coach Tony Dungy's interview with the Houston media published at ColtPower this week. In it, he said "The tight end, Jeb Putzier, from Denver is a really good player who understands the offense and can get the ball in a lot of ways."

The problem for Texan tight ends in the past has been that due to problems with the offensive line, they've needed to be blockers more than receivers. Now the Texans are hopeful that some stability in the O-line will translate into more receptions for their tight-ends. The player who hopes to be on the receiving end of many of those receptions is Jeb Putzier.

Putzier excels at finding a crease or seam in the middle of a zone. He's not afraid to go inside to make a catch in traffic and can take the hit. His decent play speed and ability to go over the middle allows the Texans to stretch that part of the field. Just like Dallas Clark for Indianapolis, he's a versatile player who can be moved around and align in different spots within the offense. So besides the normal TE spot, one might see him in the slot or the backfield.

Putzier's skills as a receiver are constantly improving, but he is still only an adequate blocker. Sometimes, though, unfortunately the Texans need a TE who can block fulltime. He had a nice reception for 26 yards in the opening drive of last week's Texan's opener, but nothing after that. Unfortunately for both him and Houston, Putzier needed to be more of a blocking tight end last week against the Eagles. They hope that changes when they visit Indianapolis.

Gilbert Gardner will be starting his second regular season game at strongside linebacker after working as a reserve behind Cato June at the weakside spot the previous two seasons. Gardner's two strongest assets are his great instincts and ability to read plays quickly. He's a quick reactor – who moves swiftly at the snap. And because of that, he's always around the ball. Gardner is disciplined and stays with assignments. He's also a solid space player who shows good change of direction skills. So he's able to cover backs out of the backfield and drop into zone.

At times, Gardner has trouble shedding blocks and still tries to run around blocks too often -- which usually only exasperates the situation. As a result, he's still much stronger in pass coverage than in making plays against the run. If a mediocre blocking TE like Putzier is having success blocking Gardner upfield, then that should tell us exactly where Gardner is in improving this aspect of his game.

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