By Mike Chappell
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 22, 2015) – Let’s get this out of the way from the outset: the Indianapolis Colts’ running game is broken, and probably unfixable until the deficiencies can be addressed – yet again – in the offseason.
Good luck, Frank Gore.
And the NFL’s all-time active rusher knows it. It’s been a season like none other during his 11-year career.
“Hell yeah, man,’’ Gore said. “I’ve never been through this.
“But it is what it is. The only thing I can do is just keep trying and keep fighting. I’ve been doing that all year.’’
Gore undoubtedly has the aches and pains to show for it, but not the yards. The Gore-like production general manager Ryan Grigson envisioned when he signed the veteran running back to a three-year, $12 million contract in March hasn’t materialized.
When the Colts visit Miami Sunday, they’ll take with them a rushing attack tied for 29th in the league in yards per game (86.5) and 31st in yards per attempt (3.6). It’s been particularly meek over the last five games: 60 yards per game, 2.7 per attempt.
It’s a chronic concern. The Colts haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in 54 games, including the playoffs, and haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Joseph Addai in 2007. Each is the NFL’s longest active streak.
Coordinator Rob Chudzinski insisted he’s seen progress in that phase of his offense recently, in part because the offensive line is regaining its health. Theoretically, that continuity should manifest itself in better run blocking.
Until then, Gore, relentless and resolute, will lower his head and burrow for whatever he can get.
“That’s all you can do,’’ he said. “It’s a team sport. It takes all 11 to be successful. Me, I’m just fighting, trying.
“It’s just been tough. But I’m going to try to finish strong.’’
Motivation comes on two fronts.
First, Gore and the Colts haven’t given up on their slim hopes of reaching the postseason.
“The bad thing is now we’ve got to wish and hope that Houston loses or however that goes,’’ he said. “That’s the bad part. Once you get in the playoffs, you forget about that. You’re thinking big picture, and that’s win the Super Bowl.’’
Secondly, Gore, 32, remains driven to achieve personal goals. He’s rushed for at least 1,000 yards in eight of his last nine seasons, including four straight. Aside from his rookie season when he started one game and had 127 carries, the only time he’s failed to crack the 1,000-yard barrier was in 2010 when injuries limited him to 11 games.
With two games remaining, Gore sits at 806 yards, 12th in the league. Time is running out, and he knows it.
“This will be my first time ever not getting a thousand being healthy in a year,’’ he said. “It’ll be tough, but like I said, it takes all 11 to be successful on the ground.
“It’s a target. When you’re a running back and you’ve been doing it for a while and blessed to being successful getting a thousand-plus the majority of my whole career, yeah, it’d be tough. But it’s a different year.’’
Clearly, injuries to quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck have impacted the efficiency of the entire offense. So have injuries and chronic ineffective play by the offensive line.
The Colts rank No. 31 in the league in yards per pass attempt (6.4) and yards per rush attempt (3.6). The lack of a consistent deep threat in the passing game has resulted in defenses crowding the line of scrimmage, which has limited Gore’s productivity.
According to Pro Football Focus, Gore has faced eight-plus defenders “in the box’’ on 48.7 percent of his 78 carries over the last five games. That’s the fifth-highest percentage among running backs with at least 50 attempts.
Yet Gore rushes on, chasing another 1,000-yard season. He knows what’s needed.
“I think like 192 (yards),’’ he said. “Hey, if I get it, man . . . it’s been a tough one. Tough, tough, But it’s football. Football is tough.
“But it’d be a big plus individually.’’
It also would keep him from joining the list of previous feature backs since ’07 – Addai, Donald Brown, Vick Ballard, Trent Richardson – who were unable to carry the team to a 1,000-yard season.
“I don’t want to be that guy, they put Frank Gore’s name (with that group),’’ he said. “I’m going to fight for it.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.