ANDERSON, Ind. – Everyone – from Chuck Pagano to Andrew Luck to Frank Gore to Rob Chudzinski – insists the Indianapolis Colts are committed to fielding an offense that offers a competent run game.
“I don’t make excuses,” Pagano said. “We have to do better.”
Added Chudzinski: “Well, we need to be able to run the ball.”
And this from Luck: “Why does it need to be better? A balanced offense I think is a more potent offense. Why will it be better? Because we’re going to work at it.”
Of course, we’ve heard that before. Like last summer, and the summer before, and so many summers before that.
To date, the message has been strong on delivery but weak on results.
It’s easy to drown in the numbers, so take a deep breath as we dive into the deep, dreary stats associated with what has passed as the Colts’ running game.
- it hasn’t produced a 100-yard rusher in 50 straight regular-season games, the NFL’s longest active streak and the longest since the Cincinnati Bengals endured a 73-game stretch in 1992-97. Toss in the postseason, and the drought is 56 games.
- the last 1,000-yard rusher was Joesph Addai in 2007. Again, that eight-year dry spell is the NFL’s longest. Gore, 33, fell 33 yards shy in his first season with the Colts. If he regains form – he’s rushed for at least 1,000 yards eight times – Gore would become the first running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark after his 33rd birthday since John Riggins in 1984. He rolled up 1,239 yards at age 35.
- a different player has led the team in rushing in each of the past four seasons: Gore, Trent Richardson, Donald Brown and Vick Ballard.
- the leading rusher since Luck’s arrival in 2012? That would be Luck with 1,069 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns. And that’s especially damning.
- since 2012, the Colts’ run game has ranked No. 22 in yards per game (101.0) and No. 27 in yards per attempt (3.89).
“We know as a team we’ve got to get better at it,” said Gore. “If we want to win games, we’ve got to get better running the ball.”
There have been contributing factors to the persistently lackluster run game, including the inability to have one back be the guy, five different centers and 32 different starting offensive lines since Luck’s arrival.
Last season, Gore found himself running into loaded fronts as defenses refused to honor the deep passing game when the Colts’ QB carousel went from Luck to Matt Hasselbeck to Charlie Whitehurst to Josh Freeman to Ryan Lindley.
Whatever the reasons have been, the inefficiency must stop.
Along with allowing Chudzinski to make use of his entire playbook, a reliable ground game would go a long way toward keeping Luck out of harm’s way and limiting the number of times he has to drop back and throw 40, 50 passes in a game.
No one is expecting an offense that’s balanced in terms of passes and runs. The goal, once again, is for the Colts to be able to run it when they want to run it.
“You have to have an offense that’s able to win a game in different ways,” Chudzinski said.
The offseason commitment to address a substandard offensive line – four of eight draft picks were used on linemen, including the 18th overall selection on center Ryan Kelly – was seen as a move to better protect Luck. But it also should assist the Gore-led running game.
Speaking of Gore, no one should question his motivation as he heads into his 12th season. He joined the Colts last offseason in large part because he viewed them as a serious Super Bowl contender.
The team finished 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011. Gore’s 967 yards were a team high, but his fewest since 2010. His 3.7 yards per attempt were a career-low. He failed to rush for at least 100 yards in game in a season for the first time in his career, topping out at 98 yards against Houston.
“Yeah, I was frustrated, but the whole year was frustrating, really, because I came here, the year before a team who almost made the Super Bowl and the year after we go 8-8,” Gore said. “I just felt like the whole season didn’t go our way.
“So, yeah, it was frustrating.”
No matter the offseason additions and changes to the offense, the success of the running game essentially falls on the shoulders of Gore.
Luck’s eyes lit up when he was asked about his starting running back.
“I think Frank defies all those stereotypes about an aging running back,” he said. “He must have the fountain of youth down in south Florida. He’s incredible. He works his butt off, so it’s not surprising that he’s always in shape and ready to go and runs as hard as he does.
“The young guys are learning as much from him, watching him, as they do from any install or any coach. He’s an incredible asset to this team.
“I think he’s one of those guys 30, 40 years from now, I’ll be able to tell kids, grandkids I got to play with Frank Gore.”