The Indianapolis Colts running back situation was one that needed the attention of Chris Ballard this offseason. Marlon Mack was drafted 143rd overall in the fourth-round and has some very interesting traits and possesses the size and speed to potentially grow into something special in the future.
Robert Turbin was brought back due to his ability to execute on third downs as well as being able to contribute in the passing game. All in all, with Frank Gore holding down the starting role, the veteran has some quality backups to complement his style as the Colts diversify their running game.
Gore began to show the beginning of his decline last season despite racking up more than 1,000 yards in his 12th NFL season. For the most part, if Gore has gotten 220 carries in a season, he’s broken the 1,000-yard barrier. 2015 was the only year in his historic career in which that didn’t happen, and one NFL analyst has predicted that he’ll get to the 1,000-yard mark yet again in 2017.
In his AFC bold predictions article, Elliot Harrison notes that Gore is in great company with John Riggins, Walter Payton, Emmitt Smith and Franco Harris from last year as the only running backs in history with 1,000 yards in their 12th NFL season. Only Riggins did it in his 13th, and if Gore were to meet that benchmark he’d be a sure fire Hall of Fame inductee – if he somehow isn’t already.
This would be an amazing accomplishment without question, the problem I have with the rest of what Harrison says is when he offers that Gore “makes the Colts line look better than it is” referring specifically to their perceived inability to create yards for Gore. I believe we’ve touched on this before, but this simply isn’t true.
There are few statistics that accurately assess efficiency and success throughout different aspects of a team’s season. Football Outsiders’ ‘Adjusted Line Yards’ is one of those that breaks down the responsibilities, and results between the line and the running backs effectively.
For all that can be said about the Colts pass protection woes in recent years, the line was very good in creating yards for Gore and the running backs last season. The Colts were third in the league in Adjusted Line Yards (4.33), and conversely Gore’s running back yards were 3.9 which on its own would have been tied for 22nd.
The Colts running backs as a whole were even worse than that, but the line also hosted the best stuff percentage in the league (13 percent) which shows that the running backs were hit at, or behind the line less than any other team’s unit.
It’s funny because Harrison even pokes fun at the national media feeding narratives about the Colts’ line, but doesn’t realize that he’s doing it himself. Don’t get me wrong, Gore does do a nice job of making himself small and squeezing through some holes that don’t appear to be there from time to time. However, it’s pretty apparent that the Colts’ line is responsible for a healthy amount of Gore’s yards last season.
If Gore is able to reach 1,000 yards in 2017, I’d be willing to bet it’s because the line continued their upward trend as a run blocking group, rather than Gore breaking out at 34 years of age.