Against the New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, and now the Washington Redskins, the Colts have run for 427 yards and three touchdowns on 103 carries (4.1 a carry). Through the first six weeks, Indy has 154 rushing attempts, which is almost half of the total rushing attempts Indy had all of last season (366). Last year, Colts runners averaged 3.5 yards a carry and roughly 81 yards a game. This year, so far, it's 3.7 a carry, but roughly 95 yards a game.
What those loose numbers tell us is that the Colts have a renewed investment in running the football. They aren't necessarily running it 'better,' but they are not so quick to abandon it if the per rush numbers are not great.
As Matt Grecco and I are always parroting, running the football is secondary to throwing the football. Last season, three of the top five rushing teams failed to make the playoffs. Those teams were the Panthers, Titans, and Dolphins. Why did they miss the playoffs? Inconsistent passing attacks. All ranked 20th or worse in that category last year.
But, for the Colts moving forward, running the football is probably more paramount than ever before. After watching him win his NFL record fourth MVP last year, defensive coordinators have collectively refused to allow Peyton Manning to beat them with the big play. Teams are routinely deploying base nickel and dime defensive packages to combat the Colts offense. This means removing linebackers from the base defense, and replacing them with defensive backs.
In essence, NFL defenses are daring the Colts to run at them.
We've seen teams use defenses like this in the past. Typically, they have failed because the Colts had a dominant offensive line and running backs like Edgerrin James. In recent years, as the o-line has declined, defenses have started acting more bold in their dismissal of the Colts running attack, focusing solely on stopping the pass. There is only one way to stop this.
Run the ball right down their throat.
Take last night's 27-24 win over the Redskins as an example:
Washington, which converted to a 3-4 alignment under new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett this season, came in surrendering 410 yards per game. The Redskins stayed almost exclusively in dime and nickel schemes to combat Manning's passing game, and for the most part, never set their defensive front. With Washington's linemen in constant motion, the Colts took the dare and capitalized on those aforementioned gaps that were constantly changing as Manning went through his audibles.
"They were trying to create a little confusion out there," Indy right tackle Ryan Diem said. "But at the same time, they were in personnel -- with the their prevent and dime and nickel packages -- that gave us a chance to run the ball a little bit."
"So we went for it."
Last night was one of the more impressive rushing performances we've seen the Colts do in quite some time. The Redskins used a similar defensive gameplan the Giants utilized in Week Two. In both games, the Colts attacked those defenses by running for over 150 yards.
All throughout the season so far, we've seen teams like the Chiefs and Jaguars also deploy similar schemes. For the most part, the Colts have been able to run at these schemes with good efficiency. This is encouraging, and likely a direct result of Clyde Christensen taking over as offensive coordinator. As great as Tom Moore was as a coordinator (the offensive equivalent of Dick Lebeau as an assistant), he seemed prone to abandon the run too quickly when per rush numbers weren't satisfactory. With Christensen, there is more focus on run, run, and run some more.
Remember what Jeff Saturday said during training camp?
I think the one thing Clyde has made a commitment to is we're gonna be a balanced offense. We're gonna run the ball and throw it. And he's putting the hat on the o-line of getting more yards per rush and getting our rushing attack up in that top 10, top 12. I think as an offensive lineman, you like that challenge. You like that hat placed on you. Hopefully, we’ll make that goal.
What we have now, six weeks in, is a full commitment to running the ball. Going forward, this is good. Look no further than Austin Collie's TD catch last night to see just how devastating the Colts are when they can play-fake. Collie was so wide open Curtis Painter could have made that throw. The reason he was open was because the Redskins safeties and LBers froze on the play-fake. Easy six.
So, we have commitment. Now, we need to start seeing results. When anyone throws a five DB look at the Colts, it's damn near criminal if they don't average 4 yards a run. Last night, they had 5.9 a rush. In the weeks ahead, this is what we need to see more of. With a commitment to the run, I hope we will.