This season, the running game was nothing if not underwhelming. As a whole, our runningbacks' volume and efficiency numbers were lower than acceptable. In order for the Colts to continue their success, a running game must be established. We as fans saw exactly what happens when Peyton is forced to carry the entire offense. We scraped by, but it wasn't pretty, it wasn't especially fun, and it wasn't the best our Colts could have been. So with out further ado, here are some of the changes and plans I expect to will be used in the upcoming season to better the running game.
First off, the Colts currently have a relatively large number of runningbacks on the roster. Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, Delone Carter, Mike Hart, Javarris James, Devin Moore, and Dominic Rhodes are all listed on the Colts roster. Naturally, not all of these players will be kept. So here's my analysis of each of our runningback's prospects next season.
Joseph Addai: Addai came off an underwhelming season. He was injured during many games and was only active for 8, and his 116 carries for 495 yards and 4 touchdowns could have been so much more. He averaged 4.3 yard/carry and .5 touchdowns/game with 1 touchdown/ 29 carries. He is now 28 years old. Let's compare that to Edgerrin James' final season in Indianapolis. James' rushed 360 times in 15 games for 1506 yards and 13 touchdowns at 4.2 yards/carry and 1 touchdown/27.7 carries and .87 touchdowns/game. James was turning 28 at the end of his final season with the Colts. One must wonder whether the Colts will bring him back. In his final season with the Colts, James was having a slightly more efficient and considerably more productive season than Addai, but he was still not re-signed. It is worth noting, however, that Addai will not cost as much to bring back as James would have. Still if management feels Addai is out of gas, especially considering his injury this season, he will still not be resigned. Right now, I think Addai will be re-signed for a short-term contract.
Donald Brown: Brown has been a hit-or-miss type of player. He is young, agile, and has the potential to create huge plays. However, our offensive line has not been able to provide him the space he needs to explode. This past season, he carried the ball 129 times for 497 yards for 2 touchdowns, at a respectable 3.9 yards/carry and but a poor .153 touchdowns/game and disappointing .016 touchdowns/carry. Still he is young and has potential, and he has shown his ability to function in our system and is under contract until 2014 at minimal expense. Unless he has a truly awful, awful season, there's no reason not to expect him back next year and the year after.
Delone Carter: I'm optimistic about this kid, I think he can provide the type of tough running that the Colts have always lacked. I almost guarantee he is with the Colts next season and I hope to see him getting significant playing time.
Javarris James: With the drafting of Delone Carter, Javarris James has to be worried about his job. Last year, James was the closest thing the Colts had to a tough runningback who could convert third-and-short and make goalline plays. Unfortunately, he just isn't that good. He only averaged 2.4 yards/carry and his longest run in 46 attempts was 11 yards. It's unlikely he'll be in a Colts jersey next year.
Mike Hart: He is injured far too often. Mike Hart isn't worth his space on the roster given the frequency with which he gets injured. He also must be worried for his job security with the drafting of Delone Carter
Devin Moore: Two carries for a team desperate for runningbacks this past season and a negative yards/carry speak for themselves.
Don't expect him back. Due to his role as a special teams player, even if he is retained, he won't see playing time at runningback.
Dominic Rhodes: I'm going to offer a more cheery perspective on Dominic Rhodes. I believe he will be kept on the team if anything for his locker-room presence and to fill in when necessary. Colts staff clearly felt he had something to offer to the team since during his only three weeks on the team during the regular season he received more carries than Donald Brown and played in the playoff game against the Jets instead of Brown. At age 32, he is clearly reaching the end of his career, but his sparing use over the past 5 years may allow him to contribute at an age most runningbacks usually are unable to do so.
Free Agency: I believe that no action needs to be taken in the free agent market, whenever that happens. The Colts have a quality corp of runningbacks and no addition to that corp could improve it without breaking the bank.
In summation, that leaves the Colts with four runningbacks on the roster: Joseph Addai, Donald Brown, Delone Carter, and Dominic Rhodes. Assuming no injuries, I believe Addai and Brown should split carries, slightly favoring Addai in carry count, with Carter plugged in tough-running and change-of-pace situations and Rhodes used sparingly.
How can we expect our runningbacks to perform in the upcoming season? The Colts 2006 season sets a great example for how we can expect a primarily two-back system to work. Addai ran 226 times for 1081 yards at 4.8 yards/carry. Accounting for a shared workload among several backs and Addai having lost a step since his rookie season, 200 attempts for 900 yards at 4.5 yards/carry is a reasonable expectation. Over the past two seasons, Brown has averaged 3.9 yards/carry. I expect next year he will have 150 carries for 630 yards at 4.2 yards/carry, slightly above his average due to an improved offensive line. Carter should have about 60 carries for 210 yards at 3.5 yards/carry, since his use in tough-running situations will drag his average yards/carry down. Rhodes probably won't due much, but throwing in 30 carries for 120 yards at 4 yards/carry is not too much to expect. Rhodes averaged 4.6 yards/carry on 37 attempts for 172 yards but his role will most likely diminish next year. This brings the totals to 440 attempts for 1860 yards at 4.23 yards/carry. Needless to say, this would be a great improvement from this past season and, by taking some of the pressure off of Manning and some of the coverage off of our receivers, contribute to the continued success of the Colts.
Finally, I'm relatively new to the community, and this is only the second Fan Post I've written, but I enjoy it and would appreciate any constructive criticism or suggestions. As always, "Go Colts."