INDIANAPOLIS – The record-breaking season seems so far away.
You know, the 1,811 rushing yards and 18 rushing touchdowns, both franchise records. And the 14 runs of at least 20 yards, including five that chewed up at least 40, both NFL highs. Remember the 83-yarder against Houston? The 78-yard TD against the New York Jets? How about the 67-yard TD with 2 minutes remaining that broke the New England Patriots’ back?
Jonathan Taylor remembers those breakout runs, even though they’ve been missing during what to this point has been an unspectacular encore season for the Indianapolis Colts’ feature back.
“You know those long runs, they don’t come often in this league,’’ he said Thursday. “You always have to appreciate them when you have them. That’s something that I did and I will always continue to do.
“But we’re close. We’ve been close all year on a ton of runs.’’
Taylor has just three runs of at least 20 yards. He clicked off a pair of late 21-yarders in week 2 at Jacksonville after the Jaguars had settled into a 24-0 lead, and added a 27-yard burst in last Sunday’s loss to the Washington Commanders.
Need perspective on Taylor’s three 20-plus attempts? Sixteen players have at least four, led by the nine of Cleveland’s Nick Chubb. Players matching Taylor’s three: quarterbacks Josh Allen of Buffalo and Marcus Mariota of Atlanta.
It’s been that type of understated season for Taylor and the Colts’ run-game package. And let’s mention from the outset everyone misses the blocking prowess of retired tight end Jack Doyle and wideout Zach Pascal, who signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
After finishing second in the league in 2021 with 2,540 yards (149.4 per game) – the second-most in franchise history – the run game has gotten little done. Even with Taylor rushing for 161 of the team’s 177 in the season-opening tie at Houston, the Colts rank 29th in yards per game (87.8) and yards per attempt (3.7).
In six games – he’s missed two games with a sprained right ankle that again threatens his availability for Sunday’s road test against New England – Taylor has been unable to repeat his withering impact of a year ago. He ranks 18th in the NFL with 462 yards. His lone TD was a 2-yard in week 1 against the Texans.
It’s uncertain if he’ll have the opportunity to pick things up against New England. Along with losing a critical fumble on a 6-yard gain late in the third quarter against the Commanders, Taylor aggravated his injured right ankle on the play.
He didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday.
“I’ve just gotta attack it,’’ Taylor said of his rehab. “There are a lot of tricks to the trade that you can do to try to speed the process up, but I just have to continue to attack it while I’m in the building (and) while I’m at home. That’s the only thing I can do.
“Every second counts. Every second is critical as far as getting the rehab in.’’
It’s entirely possible the team takes any decision out of Taylor’s hands, rules him out of Sunday’s game and allows him more time to fully recover. Every snap he plays, stresses the ankle.
Position coach Scottie Montgomery has worked with Taylor to avoid the team’s offensive catalyst becoming frustrated over the first half of the season. Along with the right ankle injury, Taylor earlier dealt with turf toe.
And everything has been exacerbated by an offensive line that has underperformed. Too often, Taylor has been met in the backfield by a penetrating defender. On a third-and-goal at the Washington 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter, left guard Quenton Nelson missed a block and linebacker Jamin Davis slammed Taylor for a 1-yard loss.
It would be natural for Taylor’s frustrations to grow.
“There’s always a level of concern with that as you move through, especially as a coach,’’ Montgomery said. “But you also have to prepare him – which we’ve done last year and since I’ve gotten here – to understand that there (are) up times in a career and there are times where you’re going through some adversity.
“But what he has to do is pull through. That’s exactly what we’re trying to push him to do. I don’t think he has gotten to the level of frustration.’’
As Taylor regains his health – in time for this week, or perhaps the following Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders – Montgomery anticipates the Colts’ run game elevating its play.
“I think from a schematic standpoint, we’ve all got to hit at the right time,’’ he said. “When you’re a little bit injured or this doesn’t quite happen, some of those runs that he would’ve made before, they just don’t come out of there.
“So, we’re going to get better of course as he gets better physically. That helps upfront (with) what we’re doing, and how we do it, if we have a dynamic player.
Often, that dynamic player can turn nothing into something special.
“Sometimes you can turn on the television from week to week and you can see a play that was not blocked very well, but these dynamic players in the backfield make a crazy play and you look at the stat sheet at the end and it doesn’t say it wasn’t blocked well or it was blocked well,’’ Montgomery said. “We’ve got to get to a point where we’re all collectively together, all of us are feeling good.’’
Taylor never has leaned on injuries as a reason for the lack of productivity, even when they are.
That’s why he remained upbeat about the possibility of the run game regaining its explosive nature.
“We’re definitely close,’’ Taylor said. “There’s definitely a bunch of runs you can see are just one block away from going to the house, or just maybe one second of patience and letting that hole develop a bit more to going to the house.
“We’ve been close all year. It’s just a matter of sticking to the plan, making sure we trust one another. That’s a big factor. If something seems muddy at first, just stay with it and it opens up like the Red Sea.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.