Lately the Indianapolis Colts have been quite an offense to watch. Andrew Luck has been fantastic, the offensive line has protected him very well and despite being without T.Y. Hilton and Jack Doyle for stretches, the team is still averaging 28.9 points per game.
However, there’s another obvious improvement to the offense that Colts fans aren’t used to acknowledging over the last few games as well. The Colts running game has seen a serious uptick this year with the emergence of Marlon Mack, and now he’s getting some help within the team’s platoon.
Rookies Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins aren’t seeing the carries Mack is, but it’s hard to discount them as being a major plus thus far. The offensive line is certainly helping a lot, but we’re seeing a nice combination of vision, power and speed with this Colts trio of ball carriers.
Since Luck has been under center for the Colts, he’s only had one running back average more than 4 yards per carry who has toted the rock more than 100 times. Donald Brown averaged 5.3 YPC in 2013, and to be fair to the argument, Ahmad Bradshaw had 90 carries in 2014 and averaged 4.7 YPC. That’s pretty darn good too.
But, that’s it. Nobody else has even come close to touching those numbers. Luck’s been banged around each season before this year, he’s had only the above two seasons with even a remotely solid running attack from a single back. Sure Vick Ballard had a nice season in there, but even he only hit the 3.9 YPC mark. Not awful by any means, but not something that put a stamp on the offense either.
This year, though, the Colts have three backs who are pace to hit the century mark in carries, and they’re proving to be an effective bunch at that. Mack, Hines and Wilkins all have at least 50 carries thus far, and none of them are averaging less than 4.5 yards per tote.
We were told that this group was going to be a by-committee unit in Frank Reich’s offense, and while Mack is looking more and more like the lead dog, 104 combined carries out of your other two options is one heck of a boost.
As a trio, the three are averaging just over 5 yards per carry, are all three viable targets out of the backfield — Hines is the clear leader in that category — and they seem to be gelling with the offensive line quite nicely. As a team, the Colts are tied for 8th in the league at 4.7 yards per carry and are certainly causing opponents to take notice.
But, is a recent jump in production from Hines and a handful of games with a good average from Wilkins enough to say the team has a potent attack? Mack has been excellent racking up more than 250 rushing yards the past two weeks, and nearly 350 over the past three, but even he’s only played in four games to this point in the season. Is it too early to tell just yet?
You can make that argument and I don’t think you’d be wrong, but there are some other factors that are leading me to believe this could be for real.
The Colts offensive line has been so good, that if they continue to be as effective run blocking this very much seems as though it could become the norm pending any unforeseen injuries. Right now, Football Outsiders has the Colts’ line ranked 2nd in the league in Adjusted Line Yards and 3rd in Stuffed Percentage which is a really good combination for the work that the O-line is doing for the backs.
In addition to that, they have the Colts sitting at 4th in RB yards which is where the team’s running backs are at in terms of a yards per carry average. Their second level yardage is quite good (6th) and their open field yardage is somewhat average (15th), but even that is a major upgrade for the Colts in recent seasons.
All in all, it appears that the Colts have the right combination of offensive line play and running back talent to maintain these numbers throughout the remainder of the year. In games that the Colts have put up at least 100 rushing yards, they are 3-1 and have an average margin of +12.5. On top of that, of the three teams they’ve gained over 100 rushing yards on, both, the Bills and the Redskins are in the top 10 of the league in YPC allowed.
Whether you believe at this moment that the Colts rushing attack is a blip, or a sign of things to come, you simply have to love how Reich and this offense have been imposing their will and have become an extremely balanced offense of late.
This can only help the Colts remain unpredictable for the future, and the near future for this team could very well be a playoff run if things bounce right.