Colts, Marlon Mack run it up on Bills 37-5

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The guy who had attempted more passes than any quarterback through the first six games of a season in NFL history kept throwing touchdowns in the second quarter and imploring his coach to make him stop.

That was Andrew Luck’s message to Frank Reich, his coach/play caller.

Trotting to the sideline after a 17-yard touchdown pass to Erik Swoope.

Keep running it.

After a 29-yarder to Marlon Mack.

Keep running it.

After a 5-yarder to T.Y. Hilton.

Keep running it.

There was a slight tug from the coordinator/former QB side of Reich to allow Luck to keep his right arm loose and find holes in Buffalo’s secondary. Remember, Luck had delivered 288 passes in the first six games and was on pace for an NFL-record 768 and a personal-best 43 touchdown passes.

“I felt we could throw it,’’ Reich said after the Indianapolis Colts blended an efficient Luck with a withering running game in Sunday’s 37-5 drubbing of the Bills at Lucas Oil Stadium. “The offensive line was blocking again, protecting the passer.

“I think there were plays to be made in the secondary.’’

Luck knew there were plays to be made on the ground, and he wasn’t the least bit shy of sharing his opinion with Reich.

“Literally after every series it was, ‘Keep calling runs. Keep calling runs,’’’ Reich said.

So he did.

While Luck was judicious – 17-of-23, 156 yards, four TDs – the ground attack was jarring. Led by Mack and empowered by a dominant offensive line, it bored holes in a Bills’ run defense that was the NFL’s sixth-best and had allowed an average of 92.5 yards per game.

Indy had piled up 116 at the break, the most since rushing for 124 against the New York Giants in 2010 and tied for the sixth-most in the first half in team history.

Mack set career highs with 19 carries and 126 yards. As a team, the Colts gouged the Bills 37 times for 220 yards. It was their fattest total since hitting Denver with 226 yards in 2007, and the fourth-highest yield since 2000.

Mack smiled as the media pinned him against his locker room cubical. He praised his offensive line. He praised the downfield blocking by the tight ends and receivers.

His job, he insisted, was easy.

“All I had to do was read the holes and hit it,’’ Mack said. “The O-line was helping me get to the second level. Everybody was blocking hard.

“All I had to do was hit the hole and make sure I stayed on my path.’’

Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton returned to the huddle after missing two games with a hamstring injury. He contributed four catches for 25 yards, including 5- and 1-yard TDs.

But Hilton seemed to draw more post-game satisfaction from the Colts’ running than their passing.

“Once the run game gets going,’’ he said, “it opens up everything . . . the play-action pass. RPO’s open up so many things and keeps the defense off balance.

“We had guys flying all over the place. Zach Pascal throwing pancakes. Chester (Rogers) getting up, throwing his body around. It was great. We were all out there blocking.’’

Mack, he added, is “dynamic. He can hit a home run at any time.’’

The Colts’ run game entered the game ranked 30th in yards per game (83.2) and 24th in yards per attempt (4.0). Only two rushes picked up more than 20 yards, and one was Luck’s 33-yard scramble at Philadelphia. Mack averaged a robust 6.6 per carry and ripped off runs of 23, 20, 15 and 10 yards.

As dynamic as Mack was, he had company. Rookie Nyheim Hines needed only five carries to amass 47 yards and fellow rookie Jordan Wilkins added 46 yards on six attempts. Hines’ afternoon included 18- and 14-yard runs while Wilkins tacked on an 18-yarder.

As wide as Mack’s grin was, it was surpassed by those of his offensive linemen.

Running the ball 37 times while throwing it 23, insisted center Ryan Kelly, “is friggin’ great. That’s better than throwing the ball 60-some times a game. It’s more fun run blocking.

“When a defense knows you’re going to pass the ball every time, they really dial up the blitzes. But when you run the ball well, it makes them stay honest and play their gaps.’’

Added left tackle Anthony Castonzo: “It’s more opportunity for you to make something happen rather than prevent something from happening, if you know what I mean. In the run game, you’re the aggressors. In the pass game, it’s more, ‘I need to keep this guy away from the quarterback.’’’

Which, it’s worth pointing out, the Colts did once again. Luck’s protection didn’t allow a sack in back-to-back games for only the second time in his career and the first since weeks 15-16 of 2016.

Credit the efficiency of the offensive line. And credit a ground attack that allowed Luck to pick and choose when he wanted to throw the football.

“It certainly makes a quarterback’s job simple and easier,’’ he said.

Even though the Colts opened a soon-to-be-blowout with back-to-back three-and-outs, Luck saw things to build on. Mack had 4- and 5-yard runs on the first drive, and added a 4-yarder on the second possession.

“Those were positive runs in those drives and Frank kept coming back to it, kept coming back to it,’’ Luck said. “Then it was sort of the dam burst open.’’

The commitment to the running game was rooted in the week of preparation.

“We had talked all week about that, Frank and I and in the quarterback room and everybody on the offensive line,’’ Luck said. “They wanted to put the game on their back, per se, and really run the rock against a formidable opponent, and I thought we did a tremendous job of that.’’

Keep running it.

“Man, it just gives you a feeling of physical power, dominance,’’ Reich said. “They certainly showed that today against a really, really good defense.’’

Select company

Mack joined a select group of running backs who’ve eclipsed the 100-yard for Luck. The only other three: Frank Gore (twice in 2016) and Vick Ballard as a rookie in ’12.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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