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Chuck Pagano says December football is about running the ball and stopping the run

Pittsburgh Steelers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

If the Indianapolis Colts are able to turn things around and make the postseason, it will be because of their... running game?

Wait, what?

That’s what head coach Chuck Pagano suggested on Wednesday, saying that December football is about running the ball and pointing to his team’s success when having more carries than their opponent.

“December football, again, being able to run it and stop the run gives you a chance,” Pagano said. “You look at numbers, when we have more rushes than our opponents have, we generally win 80 percent of the time. It is very, very important.”

Pagano is technically right in his statement that the Colts win most of the games in which they rush more than their opponent, and it’s actually higher than 80% of the time. According to FOX59’s Mike Chappell, the Colts are 34-2 in the Pagano era when they rush more times than their opponent (94.4%).

So on the surface, it looks like Pagano is absolutely right, and it looks like the key to winning is just rushing more times than your opponent. But that’s not reality. Consider, for an exaggerated example, the fact that the team that has more kneeldowns in a game is typically the team that wins. That’s not a causation but rather a correlation: that when they get the lead, they have kneeldowns to run out the clock at the end, therefore winning a high percentage of those games. So the question is not whether the Colts win more when running the football more often than their opponent - the answer to that is an unequivocal yes. The real question is whether that number suggests a causation or simply a correlation, and I’d argue it’s the latter. Of course the Colts are going to run more often when they have a lead later in a game, and so that will inflate the number of carries.

Pagano pointed to last year’s game against the New York Jets - their opponent for this Monday night’s game - as one in which they did well in the running game early against a tough front seven, but they were called back due to holding penalties.

Whether or not the reason the Colts win is because they rush more than their opponent, that’s the vision that Chuck Pagano has for his team. The weather might not be great on Monday night, it will be on the road, and it will be December football. Pagano would love for his team to be able to run the football well and win games that way, but the ideal scenario would be to have a balance of running and passing. Certainly the Colts want to be able to run the football and that’s not a bad thing, but they also need to get the passing game going. Ideally, they’d be able to do both in unity. And then, if they get a lead early, we might see them run the football more in the latter stages of the game and perhaps get that carry total up higher than their opponent.