INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts head into a defining stretch of the season with their health.
For the first time since week 15 of last season, no player has been ruled out heading into a game. Linebacker Darius Leonard is questionable for Sunday’s significant meeting with the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y.
“Right now,’’ Frank Reich said Friday, “everything is looking pretty good.’’
That includes taking a fit running back into the game who’s on the verge of assuming the NFL rushing lead.
Jonathan Taylor has rushed for at least 100 yards in five of the last seven games and enters Sunday tied with Derrick Henry with 937 yards for the league lead. Henry is expected to miss the remainder of the regular season with a fractured foot he sustained in the Tennessee Titans’ 34-31 overtime win over the Colts in week 8.
“He certainly doesn’t feel battered and bruised,’’ Reich said of Taylor. “Looks as strong, if not stronger. That’s a credit to him, his mindset, the way he works, the condition that he’s in and maintains. I’m sure he’s continuing to get stronger.
“Obviously it’s a credit to the offensive line and the way they’re blocking for him. Really, it starts with JT. He’s a unique athlete.’’
Taylor also is in the midst of a unique season.
He has positioned himself to join Edgerrin James (1999-2000), Eric Dickerson (1988) and Alan Ameche (1955) as the only Colts to lead the NFL in rushing.
It’s believed he’ll be the first Colt since James in 2005 to lead the league at some point during the season. After week 7 that season, he held an 801-776 edge over eventual rushing champ Shaun Alexander of Seattle.
The Colts moved up in round 2 of the 2020 draft to select Taylor with the 41st overall selection, and he has exceeded what were high expectations from the outset. He finished 3rd in rushing as a rookie with 1,169 yards and 5th in total yards from scrimmage (1,468).
Along with sharing the rushing lead after 10 games in Year 2, Taylor has a league-best 1,240 yards from scrimmage. He’s just the fourth player in NFL history with at least 100 yards from scrimmage and a rushing TD in seven straight games. Only LaDainian Tomlinson and Lydell Mitchell have streaks that reached eight.
The team’s belief in Taylor was reinforced during the first episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks.’’ During one snippet on Wednesday, general manager Chris Ballard and running backs coach Scottie Montgomery were discussing their feature back.
“I keep telling Frank he’s in the top five offensive weapons in the league,’’ Ballard said.
Added Montgomery: “He’s one play, one cut, one block away from a touchdown every freaking play. He’s better than what I thought he was. I’ve never been around a back like him. Every time he touches the ball – every time – it could be a touchdown.’’
Taylor has 22 touchdowns in 26 games, including the playoffs. As for the explosive nature of his game, he leads the league with nine rushes of at least 20 yards, including the NFL’s two longest runs of the season: 83 yards against Houston, a 78-yard TD against the New York Jets.
The chunk plays are becoming a normal part of Taylor’s game. He’s had 19 rushes of 20-plus yards in his 26-game career, including the first-round playoff loss at Buffalo in January, and has had at least one six times this season and in 10 of his last 16 games.
“He is an absolute game-changer,’’ Ballard said.
The Bills should offer a stiff challenge. Their defense ranks among the top-3 in most significant categories: 1st in yards per games (274.1), yards per play (4.6), passing yards per play (5.4), interceptions (15) and points per game (15.0); 3rd in rushing yards per game (83.9) and per attempt (3.8).
The Taylor-led Colts are 6th in rushing (136.3) and 3rd in yards per attempt (5.1).
It’s worth noting the Bills’ No. 1-ranked defense has been dominant in part because of the competition it’s faced. Kansas City’s offense is ranked 4th, but the other eight opponents rank 17th or worse. That includes Nos. 29 (Miami twice) and 32 (Houston).
Rotation for Rhodes
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes is in line to play against Buffalo despite being bothered by a lingering calf injury.
Reich said Rhodes likely will be part of a “rotation’’ at the position.
“With the schemes and the things that we have called, it would naturally work itself out that there will be rotation and that they’ll all play.’’
With Rhodes out last Sunday against Jacksonville, Rock Ya-Sin and Kenny Moore II started at corner with Isaiah Rodgers figuring heavily into the rotation mix.
Reich is optimistic safety Khari Willis will be designated to return to practice next week. He’s been on the injured reserve list the past three games with a calf injury.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.