Colts Key Matchup: Lilja vs Henderson

Greg Talmage breaks down one of the truly big matchups in this weekend's Colts-Jaguars game as he provides his analysis of offensive guard Ryan Lilja's battle against defensive tackle John Henderson.

The Jacksonville defense is built around their Pro-Bowl defensive tackles John Henderson and Marcus Stroud. These two create problems in several ways. First off, they require a lot of double teams, thus allowing Jaguar linebackers to be free of blocks and more able to make plays. Their ability to get penetration and eat space will at times close-off the middle and discourage teams from running inside, which then makes the opposition's running game more predictable. In the September 24th meeting between the Colts and the Jaguars in the RCA Dome, Dominic Rhodes ran for only 48 yards on 14 carries. Meanwhile, a still getting acclimated Joseph Addai had just 15 yards on three carries. Jacksonville has allowed just two 100-yard rushers this season and are the fifth ranked rush defense in the league.

Against the pass, neither Henderson nor Stroud will compile huge sacks numbers. Their ability, however, to get penetration and pressure up the middle will cause all kinds of havoc. This has the potential to create problems for a team like Indianapolis because as ColtPower sportswriter Jerry Langton noted, "Peyton Manning: … does have problems not just with 3-4 defenses but with any team that can bring decent pressure up the middle…"

It will be the responsibility of the Colts interior offensive line—RG Jake Scott, C Jeff Saturday and LG Ryan Lilja to slow these two mammoths. The interior trench battle that I'm going to focus specifically on today is LG Ryan Lilja vs. RDT John Henderson. It's tough to say how often Lilja will straight-up block Henderson one-on-one. He should get plenty of help in his matchup from Colts C Jeff Saturday. That said, however, RG Jake Scott will also need interior help from Saturday with Marcus Stroud. But Jeff Saturday cannot be two places at the same time.

And that's the headache these two beasts consistently provide for opposing offensive line coaches.

Ryan Lilja (Getty Images)
OG Ryan Lilja has found his way back into the starting LG spot after missing the preseason and the early part of the regular season with a knee injury. He's a tough, blue-collar type blocker, and while he may have some athletic limitations, Lilja plays with a solid technique, is competitive, and works hard to sustain and finish.

The third-year offensive lineman does a good job staying under control and keeping a good pad level in the run game. He can block well in space, off short and long pulls. In fact, because of this aspect of his game Lilja made Dr. Z's All-Pro team in Sports Illustrated last season. Wrote Dr. Z (Paul Zimmerman), "Ryan Lilja, the Colts' second-year veteran, was a total surprise (selection to the team), but his grades, particularly on trap blocks to either side, jumped off my chart."

In pass protection, Lilja has the ability to match up against power rushers but won't overwhelm. His strength is only adequate. He lacks explosiveness and his bend, agility and punch in pass protection are only decent. This week the challenge is a 6-foot-7, 330-pound up-field power rusher whose strength combined with his excellent handwork make him almost impossible to block single-handedly. Henderson uses both the club and rip moves effectively and has a knack for getting his hands into throwing lanes.

Henderson also brings a good initial quickness and first-step explosion, which allows him to control the point of attack and dominate in a small area against the run. It's important that Lilja be able to hold his own this week and use a solid technique. From time to time, Henderson can get too upright too quickly. This greatly saps his power and an offensive lineman using good technique in those instances will be able to control the matchup.


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