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Breaking Down the Improvement in the Colts' Running Game

The Colts' running game is off to a great start in 2014, and the Jaguars game had plenty of examples showing why it has been so good.

John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts have been a weak running team over the past few years. Ever since the the beginning of the Joseph Addai years, it seems as if the Colts can do nothing on the ground and must rely on their quarterback. This does not seem to be the case this year. Through three weeks this year, the Colts average about 122 yards on the ground per game. Since 2008, the Colts have averaged 94.35 yards per game on the ground and have always been in the bottom half of the field. Trent Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw rank 19th and 21st, respectively, in the total rushing yards and Bradshaw's yard per carry average has him in the top 3 for running backs with at least 24 carries. Their 122 yard per game average this year puts them in the top half of the field and it accounts for 28.6% of the total offensive output (in yards). Granted, it has been 3 games, but the Colts have rarely put together 3 great running games in a row.

Why has it been better? Although there are a lot of different things that are going right for the Colts, the reasons can be broken down into 3 categories: great vision from the running backs, improved effort, and good agility and movement from the offensive line.

The Jacksonville Jaguars game was a great game for the running attack. Here are 5 plays in the Jaguars game that demonstrates either great vision, improved effort and/or great agility/movement from the offensive line (or even all three at once). Also, bear with me on the mediocre graphics.

Play #1: 2nd & 8 | 1st Quarter | 3:49 Remaining


Tyler Brooke has written about this play in his previous article and it's a great play to show. As you see here, the Colts are in shotgun here with a 3 receiver set and a tight end on the right side, otherwise known as a Posse formation. The Jaguars only have 6 guys in the box, which is a very good matchup for the Colts.


The play has started and it's off to a great start. Trent Richardson has two offensive lineman in motion, pulling to the outside of the right tackle: RG Hugh Thornton and LG Jack Mewhort. They are out in front of Richardson and the Colts have the numbers advantage there. Also worth noting is the perfect blocks from Dwayne Allen (TE) and Gosder Cherilus (RT), who have their butts turned and have their blockers sealed off, opening a hole.

As you can see here, Richardson (arrow pointed towards him) is not in any immediate danger, but if he goes through the black box, there will be two defensive lineman who will be there to tackle him and there will be no gain on the play. The green box, however, indicates a potential hole that is opening up and the Colts have numbers in that direction.


As the play continues to develop, Richardson has smartly changed up his direction and is now going towards the big hole (indicated by the black box), which has two blockers there to help him. Paul Posluszny (#51 of the Jaguars) has overshot the gap and is now in a bad position.


As the play finishes up, A.Q. Shipley makes a great block and Richardson is up the middle. Richardson made a great read, had some blockers in front of him and space to run, and the play ended up getting 27 yards.

Result: 27 Yard Run by Trent Richardson

Key Points:
- Great Vision by Richardson, reading the play as it develops and finding the right hole.

- Good mobility and blocking down the field by the offensive linemen.

Play #2: 1st & Goal | 2nd Quarter | 13:11 Remaining


On this play, the Colts are in a shotgun formation again, this time with Ahmad Bradshaw. Coby Fleener had just motioned over the right side. The Colts have 4 receivers and 1 running back on the play, otherwise known as a Jet formation. The Jaguars have a safety creeping down in the box, but perhaps on an assignment to cover Fleener. The numbers are pretty even.


The play has started and the Colts are in a good position. Bradshaw has 4 blockers (3 OLs and 1 TE) in front of him and there are only 5 players for the Jaguars that can realistically make a play here and with 4 blockers for Bradshaw, it looks like it will come down to Bradshaw versus the safety, which is what they want.


As the play continues to develop, Bradshaw sees a hole opening up. Cherilus has taken care of the defensive back on the top right of the picture. Fleener has gotten down the field to make a block. Hakeem Nicks makes a great block on #50 of the Jaguars and Jack Mewhort is going to seal off #51 Paul Posluszny of the Jaguars. The only negative on this play is that A.Q. Shipley needs to get his head around and block #92, who is the most dangerous guy on the play.


As the play ends, the one thing that needs to be noted is that Bradshaw gets hit initially at the 5 yard line and ends up at the 1 yard, getting an extra 4 yards on the run. The man A.Q. Shipley failed to see on the 3rd picture misses Bradshaw and Shipley ends up taking out a guy down the field. Bradshaw gets hit from behind from #91.

Result: 9 Yard Run by Ahmad Bradshaw

Key Points:

- Good agility and movement from the offensive linemen, who get outside in a hurry.

- Great effort by Bradshaw to get the extra 4 yards.

Play #3: 2nd & 2 | 2nd Quarter | 4:49 Remaining


On this play, the Colts have 2 wide receivers, 2 tight ends and a running back, otherwise known as an Ace formation. It's balanced on each side, and the Jaguars have some players in the box. The WILL linebacker is 3 yards from the line, most likely, playing a run to that side and the MIKE and SAM are playing at around 5 yards from the line. There is a safety creeping up and perhaps playing that side if there is a run.


The Colts decide to run it to the left side and again they have the numbers as the offensive linemen are pulling nicely. There are 3 free blockers and there are 3 defenders about 8 yards away from the ball. It's up to those 3 offensive linemen to get to the 2nd level and seal off those defenders. On the line, Anthony Castonzo and Jack Mewhort get two great initial blocks.

As the play continues to develop, the blocking is very good. A.Q. Shipley is a free blocker and is getting in Bradshaw's way. He needs to get out of the way quickly. Other than that, there are 4 great blocks from the other offensive linemen and they are sealing them off very well. Bradshaw sees a hole and is about to burst through it.


Bradshaw has now gotten past most of the blocks. Hugh Thornton doesn't seal off Posluszny and now it's a one on one versus Bradshaw. What I like about this play is that Dwayne Allen, at the top left of the picture, is running down the field looking for a blocker, which shows great awareness. The offensive linemen opened up a great hole and it gave Bradshaw a lot of room to run. He got 6 more yards on top of the 2 he got in this picture, but he was tackled by Posluszny. It's worth noting that Thornton got injured on this play so that explains why he failed to get to Posluszny.

Result: 8 Yard Run by Ahmad Bradshaw

Key Points:

- Very good patience and vision by Ahmad Bradshaw. He let the play develop and made the most out of it.

- Good agility and movement from the offensive line, who have 2 guys pulling and 3 in total getting to the 2nd level.

4th Play: 1st & 10 | 3rd Quarter | 5:13 Remaining


On this play, the Colts have 2 running backs, one receiver and two tight ends on the line, otherwise known as an I-Formation with a Tank base. The Jaguars have 5 guys on the defensive line, 4 of them with their hand down. They have 2 linebackers playing 4.5 yards off the line and a cornerback setting the edge, and playing the backfield. He's also probably watching the tight end on the left side.


The play starts off well, but there is a Jaguars defender that is a little too close for comfort. The play is a second in and he's only 2 yards away from Bradshaw. Nevertheless, if the blocks go well and Bradshaw kicks it out wide, he should have a 1-on-1 at the first down line with the safety. The Colts get some nice blocks inside, Fleener takes care of the receiver-less cornerback, and Jack Doyle, who was the fullback, needs to take care of any unblocked, dangerous defenders, which in this case would be #52.


As you can see here, the two players in the backfield are no longer threats. The blocks are good at the line of scrimmage and now Ahmad Bradshaw has to make a choice. Coby Fleener and Jack Doyle have blocks in front of him. Fleener's block is decent but the defender has still sealed off the edge. If Bradshaw takes it out there, he'll be tackled or slowed down heavily. If he's patient and waits for a hole to open up between Fleener and Doyle, then he'll have an opportunity to gain a lot of yards.


As it plays out, the cornerback against Fleener does a great job of taking away the outside run and makes Bradshaw switch back inside. Bradshaw patiently waits and spots a hole and as the play develops, he sees that he has a gap. If he continues to go straight, he'll be tackled for no gain (or maybe 1 yard). He's smart to read the play and he spots an open hole and does an athletic move to change his direction.


Bradshaw waited for a hole to open up and there was a pileup to his left that he avoided. He ends up getting in front of the defenders and must beat the safety, which he does. He gets an extra 23 yards after this screenshot and is pushed out of bounds. His patience is above average and it shows on this play as he lets it develop.

Result: 28 Yard Run by Ahmad Bradshaw

Key Points:

- Ahmad Bradshaw is patient and reads the play very well (showing great vision).

- Bradshaw is able to change directions quickly, showing great athleticism and bursting down the field, breaking a key tackle in the process.

Play #5: 2nd & 10 | 3rd Quarter | 2:51 Remaining


On this play, the Colts are in a shotgun formation with 3 receivers, 1 tight end and 1 running back, otherwise known as a Posse Formation. The Colts have 3 receivers to the right and a tight end on the left side. The Jaguars are spread out and have 5 guys in the box. The Jaguars' cornerback on their right side is free with no receiver and again is setting the edge and is watching Coby Fleener. The SAM linebacker is split out wide with an inside shade on the most inside slot receiver.


The Colts go with an inside run here which is the right call considering the Jaguars' defense. The blocking is good off the line, but the key is getting A.Q. Shipley to the 2nd level and sealing off the linebacker. Richardson has two options, to either go inside and follow Shipley or go between the hole created by the right guard and the right tackle, but will most likely go up against that spread out SAM linebacker.


The right guard, Hugh Thornton, has done a great job of bringing his defender towards the scrum and getting him out of the way. Richardson picked the right hole, but now has 3 defenders within a few yards of him. From this perspective, it doesn't seem like Richardson has any chance of getting a first down.


This screenshot shows Trent Richardson getting hit by two players and a third one coming in. He is initially hit at the 9 yard line (just before this image).


Richardson ends up at the 6 yard, resulting in 3 extra yards. This play is far from spectacular, but what it shows is that Richardson has good patience and he's willing to get 3 extra yards after initial contact. It's worth noting that Richardson had a 2.9 yards per carry average last year, and he gets an extra 3 yards because of his effort here.

Result: 7 Yard Run by Trent Richardson

Key Points:

- Richardson shows good patience letting the play develop and letting Thornton bring his guy out of the play.

- He also shows great effort by getting an extra 3 yards after the hit.


The running game has improved tremendously this year and these 5 plays demonstrate why. The offensive linemen are more mobile and are pulling more often. They are getting to the 2nd level easier and they're giving both Richardson and Bradshaw lanes to run through.

Both Bradshaw and Richardson have improved too, and what I saw in this game especially but in the first three games also was that their patience was at an all time high. They are letting plays develop and they're breaking a lot of tackles. They just look better as a whole. It's nice to have a running game that is a major contribution to the offense. If the Colts can continue to establish a running game and feed Luck the ball, they'll have one of the best offenses in the NFL.

Note: Game footage from NFL Game Rewind.