INDIANAPOLIS – It wasn’t quite Quenton Nelson/Frank Reich 2021 2.0, but the situation felt eerily similar.
You remember, right?
Week 13 of ’21. Indianapolis Colts vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium. During one stretch, Carson Wentz dropped back on 26 consecutive plays even though the Colts led most of the game and never trailed by more than the final 38-31 spread. Whenever Reich sent in a run-pass option, Wentz opted for the second part.
Early in the fourth quarter, Nelson had had enough. He moved next to Reich with a suggestion. The Colts trailed 28-24, and it soon would move to 31-24 as the Bucs recovered Nyheim Hines’ muffed punt and drove for Ryan Succop’s 25-yard field goal.
If the defense stops them here, could we get like a straight run call? JT’s hungry.
Reich: Yeah, OK.
Taylor was en route to leading the NFL in rushing with a franchise-record 1,811 yards. But up to that point, he had been limited to 25 yards on eight rushes. He went nearly 27 game-minutes between carries as Wentz dropped back once, twice, 26 straight times.
Trailing 31-24 with 10 minutes remaining, Reich dialed up Taylor’s number again and again. On a game-tying 10-play, 75-yard drive, Taylor carried eight times for 58 yards, including a 4-yard TD that knotted things at 31-all with 3:29 remaining.
Tom Brady led Tampa Bay on a game-winning drive, but that’s not the point.
The point: It’s seldom a good idea for a team whose strength is the run game to get away from that strength, and seldom a good idea to get away from one of the NFL’s premier backs.
That was the case in Sunday’s 38-27 loss to New Orleans, and there wasn’t a sighting of Nelson visiting Shane Steichen on the sideline as:
- Taylor opened the game with 82 yards on seven attempts in the first quarter, then had just five rushes for 13 yards over the final three periods. One of the Colts’ offensive cornerstones had a singular 1-yard carry after halftime, which came on their first third-quarter snap.
- The Colts piled up 110 rushing yards on 18 attempts in the first half, then limited themselves to six carries in the second half. They had 54 yards after the break, but 41 came on Zack Moss’ burst on third-and-1.
- Gardnew Minshew II finished the game with 41 pass attempts and 44 drop- backs including two sacks and a scramble. The Colts closed the game with 19 consecutive drop-backs. Their last rush was Moss’ 4-yard run at the 4:36 mark of the third quarter, one play after his 41-yarder.
This is where we mention Minshew is 1-10 as a starter when he’s attempted at least 40 passes in his five-year career.
Leaning too heavily on Minshew and not nearly enough on Taylor and Moss was difficult to understand because Sunday was a one-score game until the Saints grabbed a 35-20 lead with 10:49 remaining.
That was one of the lines of questioning Monday afternoon for Shane Steichen.
He mentioned the Colts being “backed up’’ on their first two possessions of the third quarter: at the 14, then the 3. A false start by Josh Downs helped doom the first three-and-out drive.
On the second possession from the 3, Moss was in and had success. After being stuffed for a minus-1 and Minshew’s 11-yard completion to tight end Mo Alie-Cox, Moss went for 7, 2, 41 and 4 yards.
But on second-and-6 at the Saints 33 and the Colts trailing 21-20, Minshew suffered his biggest mistake of the afternoon. Looking for Michael Pittman Jr., who had run a double move, he found New Orleans’ cornerback Paulson Adebo for an interception.
The Saints would drive for Alvin Kamara’s 16-yard touchdown and a 28-20 lead with 7 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Another three-and-out by the Minshew-led offense was answered by Taysom Hill’s 1-yard TD and a 35-20 deficit.
“When we got in the fourth quarter, we were down two scores there,’’ Steichen said. “Could there have been an opportunity for a run there? Yeah, absolutely.
“So, always self-evaluating everything and we’ll continue to do that.’’
Two run-related issues confront Steichen, coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and running backs coach DeAndre Smith moving forward.
Divvying up the attempts between Taylor and Moss
Moss has been one of the major bright spots thus far and shouldn’t be ignored. Despite missing the opener, his career-high 589 yards rank No. 2 to San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey (652). Moss has 14 attempts that have gained at least 10 yards, including six for at least 20, which is tied for most in the league. Two of his three longest career runs have occurred in the last two months: a 56-yard TD against Tennessee and Sunday’s 41-yarder.
But the Colts signed Taylor to a $42 million extension for a reason. In the last three games as his playing time has increased, he’s contributed 40- and 20-yard receptions, a 24-yard run and a 42-yarder against the Saints.
“Throughout the game, we have stuff that JT is tagged on, same thing with Moss,’’ Steichen said. “Like I said, we try to ride the hot hand. JT is a big-time playmaker and he’s continuing to improve every single week. We’ll continue to evaluate those things going forward and making sure we have the guy that we want in at the right time.’’
Smith plays a major role in determining the running back rotation.
“DeAndre does a heck of a job with those guys,’’ Steichen said. “JT (is) going into week five now. He’s coming along pretty well. We’ll evaluate that this week as well.’’
The Colts’ run game ranks No. 8 in yards per game (129.0) and No. 6 in yards per attempt (4.5). That’s impressive considering they were limited to 65 yards on 26 attempts in the season-opening loss to Jacksonville.
But there is a noticeable drop-off after halftime.
In the first half of games, the Colts are averaging 5.3 yards per attempt. That drops to 3.5 in the second half.
The contrast has been dramatic in the last two losses to the Browns and Saints.
First halves: 39 attempts, 229 yards (5.9/attempt).
Second halves: 25 attempts, 103 yards (4.1).
You can follow Mike Chappell on X, formerly known as Twitter, at @mchappell51.