Entering the 2015 season, the Indianapolis Colts had well-intentioned plans to put 32-year old running back Frank Gore on a pitch count. They wanted to keep him fresh and didn't want to overwork him.
Circumstances, however, seem to have changed those plans. At their bye week, the Colts sat at just 4-5, tied atop the AFC South only due to a tiebreaker. That wasn't the plan. The Colts have a new offensive coordinator than they did to start the season, a result of the unit's struggles. That wasn't the plan, either. And the Colts will be playing the next month-plus without their franchise quarterback, as Andrew Luck is out with a lacerated kidney and a torn abdominal muscle. That most certainly wasn't the plan.
That is why, though taking Frank Gore off of a pitch count wasn't the plan either, the Colts are lightening up on that. There's no more saving him for the playoffs. Now, the Colts need Gore to help them get there. This isn't a new trend, either, as the past two games have seen Gore get more and more involved. Through the first seven games of the season, Gore averaged 14 carries per game and never exceeded 22 in a game. In the last two games, Gore has carried the ball 50 times - 22 against the Panthers and 28 against the Broncos, which was the most in a single game for the back since 2011.
"If he's rolling like that and we're staying balanced and gaining yards and he feels good then we're going to do what we have to do to win ball games," head coach Chuck Pagano said on Wednesday.
The message is clear: Gore's pitch count is a thing of the past. That doesn't mean that the Colts are going to stop being smart with him or that they're hoping to run him into the ground until he gets hurt. Rather, this is the Colts realizing where they are at and what they have with their team and acting accordingly. The Colts are at the point where they need to do whatever they can to win games, and especially now with Matt Hasselbeck taking over at quarterback, that means rolling with Frank Gore. And remember, we're talking about the most durable running back in football. Gore is on a streak of playing in 81 straight games, including playoffs. He hasn't missed a game since 2010, and that spans 1,359 carries - and counting.
Perhaps the biggest test for Gore was how he would respond after receiving 28 carries in the Colts' win over the Broncos - a perfect example of the balance the Colts hope to achieve, as it led to the best offensive performance of the season. How would Gore respond after the increased workload, though? "I was cool," Gore said, confirming what Chuck Pagano said in that Gore came out of the game healthy. "I was cool with it. Whatever they want me to do here, I'm willing to do it."
Moving forward, that just might mean an increased workload. The Colts will still be smart, but they realize that if they can get an offensive balance going, eat up the clock, and get Frank Gore going, they should be fine.