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Colts achieve rushing feat for first time in over 20 years, face massive challenge in Wild Card round

Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Much has been made about the Indianapolis Colts’ ability to stop the run this season, and for good reason. The Colts’ defense finished the year sixth in the league allowing a mere 3.9 yards per carry, and with all of the talk from the previous regime about that being a priority, Matt Eberflus and this defense did it surprisingly quietly.

On the other hand, the Colts put all their chips in the center of the table on using a platoon-style running game with Marlon Mack being the lead back, and he did well for himself in his first season as the primary runner. Mack eclipsed 900 rushing yards, showed off his big-play ability, and had six games in which he averaged more than 4.75 yards per carry.

The additions of rookies Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins proved to benefit the Colts ground game as well with Wilkins being the more effective runner of the two, while Hines proved to be more of an all-around weapon, and was heavily used in the passing game. And with a much-improved offensive line this season, the Colts rushing attack was something teams had to prepare for while also trying to keep Andrew Luck under control.

In fact, this season is the first time the Colts have outrushed their opponents through the course of the season since 1995. 1995! That’s 23 years. There are 15 players on the Colts’ active roster who are 23 years old or younger. That says a lot about how the Colts approached the running game on both sides of the ball.

It possibly says more about the defense, and with them not allowing a 100-yard rusher all season, we’re going to gladly go with that. But, the Colts’ running game can’t simply be thrown aside either.

By no means was the Colts running game dominant, though they absolutely showed that they have the ability to be. Also, you can bet that this circle of success on offense (passing game, running game, offensive line) was greatly improved because of it’s increased efficiency. When one of those three aspects to the offense falter, the others have to be considerably better when being schemed against.

With all of that said, the Colts’ Wild Card matchup against the Houston Texans presents a major challenge for the Colts running game. In their previous two meetings this season, the Texans held the Colts to two of their four lowest rushing totals of the season. The Texans held the Colts to a total of 91 rushing yards (2.28 yards per attempt) on 40 carries, and that could spell bad news in the playoffs.

Did I forget to mention that the Texans were the top rushing defense in the league this year allowing only 3.4 yards per carry? They were also tops in the NFL in explosive runs allowed, as they gave up only 3 runs of 20-plus yards. They were also top-3 in total rushing yards allowed, rushing yards allowed per game, rushing touchdowns allowed.

Whew! This will be a tall task for Frank Reich and this offense to maintain a balanced attack if they can’t find success early on.

If the Colts didn’t have Luck, and his ability to take over a game in the passing game, they wouldn’t be in the playoffs first of all. But, they certainly would be massive underdogs in this Wild Card matchup.

Luck did throw 6 touchdowns to only 1 interception, and racked up over 860 passing yards in their first two meetings with the Texans this year. But, he also threw the ball over 100 times. That is an 8.38 yards per attempt average, and Luck completed his passes at just above a 65% clip — but the fact that he HAD to have those games is what should present some cause for concern.

The Colts absolutely have the pieces, the scheme, and the potential to handle the Texans in their own building this weekend. However, if the running game isn’t up to par, it’s going to be another close game and one play could send the Colts home before they are able to show how dangerous they can actually be.