The 2016 season featured the most productive season by an individual Colts running back in nearly a decade.
Frank Gore reached a number of milestones this past season. He rushed for 1,025 yards, becoming the first Colts back since 2007 to rush for 1,000 yards in a season (and becoming the oldest player in the NFL to do so since 1984). He rushed for 100 yards in a game (twice), becoming the first Colts player to do so since 2012. He averaged 3.9 yards per carry, the highest by a qualifying Colts back (minimum 200 carries) since 2007. His eight total touchdowns were not only tied for the most on the team this year (with Robert Turbin), they were also tied for the most by a Colts running back since 2009.
That probably says more about the futility of the Colts running game in recent years than anything else, but without a doubt Gore was productive. He rushed for 1,025 yards, caught 38 passes for 277 yards, and scored eight total touchdowns (four rushing and four receiving). 1,302 yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns from a 33-year old back is absolutely phenomenal production, and Gore for the most part was able to do his job: taking some of the pressure off of the passing game.
Robert Turbin, a free agent signing last offseason, provided a nice complement to Gore this season in a critical way: short yardage situations. The Colts had really struggled in those situations a year ago, but the addition of Turbin gave them a back who could consistently get a couple of yards when needed. He turned into their short yardage back and goal line back, and he produced in those roles. He rushed for 164 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 26 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t have a huge role - he only touched the football 67 times combined this year, compared to 301 times for Gore - but he filled his role well.
Outside of Gore and Turbin, however, the running backs weren’t anything special. Jordan Todman did some nice work in garbage time, rushing for 59 yards on nine carries, but his main impact came on special teams. Josh Ferguson struggled in the running game, gaining just 20 yards on 15 carries, but he did catch 20 passes for 136 yards. The second-best rusher on the team, however, was actually Andrew Luck. He was second in rushing yards, led the team in yards per carry (among those with at least ten carries), and had the second-most carries, while he also was tied for the second-most rushing first downs. Furthermore - and this stat is quite incredible - Luck had three rushes of 20+ yards this year, while the rest of the team combined had one.
See, here’s the reality of the Colts’ running back situation: they’re fine. They produced. They got the job done. They filled their role. But they’re not great, and neither was the team’s run game. They ranked 23rd in yards per game, tied for 20th in yards per carry, tied for 16th in rushing touchdowns, tied for last in 20+ yard rushes, and tied for 16th in attempts per game. Gore carried the ball more than all but six players in the NFL last year, but he was 12th in rushing yards and 28th in yards per carry (among qualified players). It was the most productive season a Colts running back has had in a while, but it was nothing special - and unfortunately, as hard as it is to say, Gore’s just not the same player he once was. He doesn’t have that burst anymore, and while he still has nice vision and can take advantage of opportunities, he still has his limitations.
For example, there was the metric that Kyle Rodriguez shared on Twitter a week ago: when you compare the running back yards added minus the adjusted line yards, the Colts were dead last in running back yards added.
Average RB "yards added"— T.Y. Hilton Fan (@ColtsAuth_Kyle) January 4, 2017
(RB Yards minus Adjusted Line Yards)
well look who is bringing up the rear pic.twitter.com/dNBJjqwL2N
None of this is intended to take away from what Gore did this year: for a 33-year old running back, the level he produced at is almost unheard of. He always gave his best and always played hard, and he did a fine job leading the Colts rushing attack. He should definitely be brought back for the 2017 season, but here’s my point: the offensive line deserves some credit for the run game as well (that was the line’s strength this year), and the Colts would be wise to begin thinking about a replacement plan for Gore down the road. He’s still productive enough to be a key contributor in 2017, and if the team brings back Turbin (who’s set to become a free agent) that would add their complementary back to Gore. But it would also be smart to begin thinking about the replacement plan for Gore, because for as awesome as he still is, he’s not quite the same player he used to be.
So, in essence, here’s what I’m saying: Frank Gore’s 2016 season was a good one, one that’s unheard of for his age and one that was the best season a Colts back has had since 2007. But it still wasn’t a great running game that Indianapolis had, and it’s necessary to at least admit it. Gore and Turbin were fine, while Luck added quite a bit to the running game. But at the end of the day the Colts still aren’t a great running football team, as much as Chuck Pagano might like them to be.