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Colts’ Backfield Dilemma: Balancing Taylor and Moss for the Remainder of the 2023 Season

Exploring the Indianapolis Colts’ strategic choices in utilizing Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss under the guidance of Shane Steichen and Chris Ballard.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Indianapolis Colts Jenna Watson-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts are at a strategic crossroads as the 2023 season progresses. With Jonathan Taylor’s injury-riddled 2022 season leading to a contract stalemate and subsequent extension and Zack Moss’s emergence as a formidable force, head coach Shane Steichen and general manager Chris Ballard face a pivotal decision in managing their backfield.

In 2021, Jonathan Taylor’s rushing prowess was undisputed in the NFL. His dominance inspired confidence in the future. However, ankle injuries in 2022 derailed his dominant start, culminating in off-season surgery. The resulting contract stalemate and resolution, while securing Taylor’s financial future, inadvertently opened doors for Zack Moss. In 2023, Moss has proven to be one of the NFL’s most productive running backs.

With rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson’s season over and early signs of success fading, Ballard and Steichen have much to ponder. The question is: Should they deploy Taylor back in his every-down, bell cow role or protect his health for the future?

Moss has demonstrated his capability to carry the load, growing in value, which could benefit the Colts—whether he is retained as a complement or delivers value through a trade or draft compensation.

A telling sign of the Colts’ strategy was evident in their recent game against New Orleans. After Taylor amassed 94 yards on 11 carries in the first half, his utilization dropped significantly in the second, with only one carry. Coach Steichen attributed this to “game script,” although the situation didn’t strongly support this reasoning. With the Colts trailing by just a point and leading in time of possession, it would have seemed logical to continue relying on their talented running game.

However, the shift to Moss gaining more carries and the offensive scheme going pass-heavy could indicate a strategic pivot. While injuries or shifts in performance could influence decisions, the Colts might opt for a more balanced approach, maintaining an even split to keep both backs healthy.

This approach has several potential benefits. It reduces the wear and tear on Jonathan Taylor, preserving his long-term health and performance. For Zack Moss, it provides continued opportunities to shine and grow, potentially increasing his value. It also creates a dynamic backfield that can keep opposing defenses guessing.

However, this strategy is not without risks. It may impede Taylor’s ability to regain his top form and rhythm. Also, an even split might limit the Colts’ offensive potential, especially in critical game situations where Taylor’s proven prowess could be decisive.

As the season progresses, the Colts’ backfield management will be a critical factor in their success or failure. The decisions made by Shane Steichen and Chris Ballard will not only shape the remainder of the 2023 season but also have long-term implications for the franchise.

The Colts find themselves navigating complex waters, balancing immediate needs with future considerations. Whether Jonathan Taylor returns to his dominant role or Zack Moss continues his ascent, the backfield strategy adopted by the Indianapolis Colts will be a compelling storyline to follow as the season unfolds.