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How Frank Gore became a liability for the Colts

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Pittsburgh Steelers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

[Editor’s Note: Please welcome Brian Krosky to our writing staff here at Stampede Blue! Brian has been involved with Draft Indy, and we’re thrilled to have him on-board as a writer here. Please give him a warm welcome!]

It’s a known narrative from all circles; The Indianapolis Colts need a running back. The 23rd ranked rushing offense last year totaled 1,628 yards, which was the third-most since Andrew Luck has been the signal-caller for the Colts in 2012.

The 4.0 yards per carry was the second-highest since 2012, only behind 2013’s 4.3 yards per carry. More notably, Frank Gore became the first running back with a horseshoe on his helmet to run for 1,000 yards in a season, with his 1,025 yards, since Joseph Addai did in 2007.

While those numbers may be impressive in terms of recent history for the team, it’s still below the league average.

What does this mean for the Colts moving forward? The 33-year-old running back is in the final year of his contract with Indianapolis, and it’s not likely that he’ll return following next year. There is no dead money if the Colts decided to cut him before the 2017 season, but that also seems highly unlikely.

While Gore provided the most productive season for a Colts running back in nearly a decade, looking at it further in context he may be more of the problem than the solution.

Football Outsiders’ (FO) offensive line innovative statistics revealed that the Colts running attack was very... intriguing.

The piece ranked all NFL offensive lines during the regular season in terms of multiple facets of run blocking, and it exhibits the strengths and weaknesses of all teams, with none more apparent than the Colts.

Indianapolis ranked 1st in the entire NFL in stuffed percentage, or percentage of runs where the running back was tackled at or behind the line of scrimmage. That only happened to the Colts on 13% of their runs and yes, you’re reading that correctly, they had the lowest percentage in the NFL.

But the farther past the line of scrimmage we go the more downhill the Colts play goes.

In another one of FO’s metrics, 2nd level yards, the Colts were 28th in the NFL. This calculates the amount of yards gained by the team’s running backs between 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage.

Things get worse, as the Colts were ranked dead last in open field yards. FO measured this as yards by the team’s running backs farther than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage, and the metric calculation gave the Colts a 0.26, which was less than half of the league average of 0.65. So the Colts were more than twice as bad at gaining yards on runs longer than 10 yards than the average team in the NFL. That’s not good.

What does this all mean? It means that:

  1. The Colts offensive line (especially the interior) is one of the better, if not the best, run blocking units in the league. In fact FO’s full metric, Adjusted Line Yards (ALY), ranked the Colts as tied for the third-best in the NFL, and they were first in the NFL in ALY on runs up the middle. Their ALY of runs up the middle of 4.95 was 0.51 better than the second place Dallas Cowboys (4.44).

For reference, that difference of 0.51 is the difference between the #2 Cowboys and the #16 Chicago Bears (3.93). So the Colts, according to Football Outsiders were by far the best team blocking up the middle.

2. Frank Gore had all he needed to put up incredible numbers, but he just cannot at this stage in his career anymore. Now, in context, it can be argued that these numbers were aided by the patience and vision of Frank Gore. Although his lack of explosiveness has been clearly exposed, the mental aspect of his game is as sharp as ever. He constantly picks the right lanes and gaps to attack and still uses his feet wisely around the line of scrimmage. There’s a chance he makes these short-area numbers look as good as they do with his decisiveness and decision-making.

But it’s clear that he just does not have the breakaway speed anymore to make the impact that an average running back would. We know Frank Gore doesn’t offer that type of weapon in his arsenal, but this has turned him into more of a liability than an asset for the Colts.

The Colts have the worst difference in terms of ranking for stuffed percentage (1) vs. 2nd level yards (28), or a difference of -27. For comparison, the other three worst differences in the NFL regular season from 2016 are the Giants (-20), Cheifs (-17) and the Saints (-17).

Moving on to the difference between stuffed percentage rank (1) and yards in the open field (32), Indianapolis clearly has the worst possible difference. Their -31 ranking ranks head and shoulders as the worst in the league, while the other two teams rounding out the bottom three are the Steelers (-21) and the Giants again (-20).

There’s an argument that the Colts blockers struggle in the 2nd level of the field and that’s a contributing factor, but not enough to explain the Colts’ league-worst difference in terms of excellent blocking at the line of scrimmage versus having one of the worst running attacks five yards and more past the line of scrimmage. It just doesn’t add up.

It’s a tough pill to swallow with the player and person Frank Gore is, but it’s clear: He’s become a liability for the Indianapolis Colts.

Stay tuned for the reaction piece to this where I’ll look at the running backs in the 2017 NFL Draft that the Colts can look to add in each round of the draft, and who will be available for them when they’re on the clock.