SPECIAL COVERAGE: 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500

Equal parts running and passing for Colts offense? Frank Gore votes yes!

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Frank Gore #23 of the Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball against the Denver Broncos during a game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 8, 2015. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Nov. 18, 2015) – If quarterback Matt Hasselbeck or offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski had sought input while authoring the game plan for the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday test at Atlanta, Frank Gore’s hand might have shot into the air.

His suggestion: reach for the game plan created for Denver. Use it. Again.

The Colts knocked the Broncos from the unbeaten ranks with an approach that was uncharacteristically balanced: 40 rushing plays, including six Andrew Luck scrambles, and 37 pass attempts/sacks. They kept the defense fresh by generating season-highs in first downs (27) and time of possession (38 minutes, 39 seconds).

“The game of football should be like that,’’ Gore said Wednesday. “It helped the defense (to) control the clock. Put us in better situations.”

“I think that probably was the best offensive game for four quarters. Staying on the field, moving the chains, moving the ball, getting tough yards. As an offense we got to keep doing it.’’

So just to be clear, Chudzinski should simply hand players the same game plan he gave them while preparing for the Broncos?

Gore smiled.

“I’m willing to do whatever coach calls,” he said. “But when we played Denver, running the ball, passing the ball, it was even. We were successful.’’

In his first game since replacing Pep Hamilton, Chudzinski simplified the offense and relied heavily on an intermediate passing game that featured the tight ends (a combined 11 targets) and the running back tandem of Gore and Ahmad Bradshaw.

And that was with Luck at the controls.

Now, it’s Hasselbeck’s offense while Luck misses perhaps the next month with a lacerated kidney and torn abdominal muscle. Conventional wisdom insists the Colts will ease Hasselbeck’s burden by once again leaning heavily on Gore and Bradshaw.

“Running the football takes some heat off of any quarterback, doesn’t matter who it is,” coach Chuck Pagano said.

Hasselbeck was asked if a viable running game is a quarterback’s best friend.

“A quarterback’s best friend is pass protection, and the running game helps that,” he said. “The running game, I think we all want to be balanced and having Frank and these guys, it’s a huge help.”

The Colts remain one of the NFL’s more pass-reliant teams. Their pass-run ratio (62.9 percent passing) ranks No. 11 in the league.

However, the last two games have featured a more grounded approach with 75 combined rushes at Carolina and against the Broncos. That’s tied for the third-most rushes by the Colts in back-to-back games in the past two decades.

And history tells us the more the Colts run, the better they are. Since 1996, they’re 9-1 when they run the ball at least 40 times and 33-3 with at least 35 attempts.

Not surprisingly, Gore, 32 and in his 11th season, has been the willing workhorse. He embraced a 28-carry outing against the Broncos, his most carries since 2011. He had more carries in just six of his previous 164 games, including the playoffs. And worth noting: Gore’s teams are 9-0 when he has at least 28 carries in a game.

“I was cool with it,” he said. “Whatever they want me to do I’m willing to do.”

Was it tough recovering from the abuse he absorbed?

Again, Gore smiled.

“I don’t get hit really,” he said. “I don’t get flush-hit. They can’t really hit me (with) I would say with a clean shot.”

Despite being effective running between the tackles, Gore has an uncanny knack of avoiding massive hits by defenders. He makes himself skinny.

“I guess I’ve just been blessed with it,” he said.

Much of Gore’s staying power, though, is a reflection of his offseason regimen. He once again spent time at the University of Miami, working with former Hurricane standouts and being pushed by Andreu Swasey, the school’s strength and conditioning coach. He also spent time with noted trainer Pete Bommarito.

To this point, that approach has paid dividends. His team-best 599 yards rank No. 11 in the NFL and has him on pace for 1,064 yards. It would be his ninth 1,000-yard season in the past 10 years and the Colts’ first since 2007. The team’s seven-year stretch without a 1,000-yard rusher is the NFL’s longest active streak.

Atlanta coach Dan Quinn insisted Gore isn’t playing like one might expect from a 32-year-old running back. He dealt with a younger version when he was a defensive line coach and coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks and Gore was the San Francisco 49ers’ long-time feature back.

“If you had not told me the age, I never would have guessed that,” Quinn said. “One of the things, and I coached against him a lot, that I have the most respect for (is) his vision. Often times there’s like ‘Man, where that 2-yard run turn into an 8-yard run and the 8 one go to a 20-yard one?’, where it looks like it’s ready to be stopped and the feet kept going.

“I know from personal experience… we’d better have our tackling just right ‘cause he’s a legit competitor for sure.”

That generally has been the case this season. The Falcons boast the NFL’s No. 3-ranked run defense.

For his part, Gore shrugged off the age issue.

“I feel great,” he said. “It’s a blessing man, to stay young. Eleven years in and I feel like I’m still playing good ball.”

It was mentioned to Gore that history insists running backs begin to lose their effectiveness once they turn 30.

“That’s what they say,” he replied. “I’ve been blessed, and I train hard.

“You train hard and you still love it, you should be fine.”

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