INDIANAPOLIS — For all the struggles the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive line has had in the passing game, the unit seems to be coming together with the ground attack.
The results were most obvious in Sunday’s 27-17 victory against the Miami Dolphins, with Jonathan Taylor gaining a season-high 103 yards and scoring his first touchdown on 16 carries. But it was actually the third week in a row the run game averaged at least 4.2 yards per carry.
Deficits against the Los Angeles Rams and Tennessee Titans didn’t allow head coach Frank Reich and the offense to fully commit to the run in the two previous weeks, but Indianapolis (1-3) controlled the game for the first time at Miami. The result saw season highs with 33 carries and 139 rushing yards — as well as 27 points.
That’s the preferred script for Reich, and it all starts with Taylor. He racked up 61 yards on just two carries against the Dolphins — a 38-yard run that got the Colts out of the shadow of their own end zone early in the third quarter and a 23-yarder for the game’s first touchdown with 2:54 remaining in the first half.
Those big gains add tangible energy to the offense and help to open up more of the playbook.
“The big explosive plays, we get the run game going, it opens up the play-action game even more so,” Reich said. “(Taylor’s) just an electric guy with the ball in his hands. He’s got a rare combination of speed, power and size. The sooner we can get him going in a game, the better. We’ll continue to mix it up. As you saw, we still got the other backs some carries — Marlon (Mack) some carries and Nyheim (Hines) some carries, but it’s nice to get Jonathan going.”
That mix will vary from week to week. Mack got a season-high 10 carries against Miami in large part because he was the running back inserted for the final drive with Indianapolis attempting to run out the clock.
A week earlier, Hines got six carries and scored a 9-yard touchdown against the Titans with Mack on the inactive list. That move was made because of quarterback Carson Wentz’s injured ankles and the resulting need to have three active quarterbacks on game day.
Other weeks, it will be matchups dictating how the running back carries are divided.
One recent wrinkle has seen Taylor and Hines lining up in the backfield together. That formation adds a layer of misdirection and confusion for opposing defenses.
“I think it causes a lot of problems with the defense,” Hines said. “You have to pick your poison. Do you run out with me? Do you monitor JT? Hopefully, going forward, it’s a package that we continue to use. I love being on the field with JT, and I think we have some advantages with it. I think it was just an advantage with both of us being on the field.”
No matter who is in the backfield or how the carries are spread out, the running game remains a key element to this offense.
As Wentz heals and gains trust and confidence with his receivers, the rushing attack should become an even greater weapon. But Indianapolis also believes it can use a hot running game to jump start everything else.
“It’s really huge for any offense once you get the run game going,” offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. “It just opens up play-action. The defenses aren’t pass rushing because they are trying to worry about fitting their gaps. So it slows down the pass rush, opens up holes in the secondary. So it’s huge once we get that run game going.”
THEY SAID IT
“Just seeing what they do. You see they do a lot of things in the boundary. They put all the receivers over there, get everybody booting that way, and then (quarterback Lamar Jackson’s) getting out the back door. You have to make sure you look at that and see what he loves against us, what he did against us and try and minimize that. Just watching the tape, understanding how he wants to attack and just go from there.” — Colts linebacker Darius Leonard on what he learned from last year’s 24-10 loss against the Ravens
Center Ryan Kelly (groin) and running back Jordan Wilkins (illness) were added to the did not participate list Thursday. Defensive end Kwity Paye (hamstring) and right tackle Braden Smith (foot/thumb) continue to sit out and are likely to miss another game Monday night.
Running back Nyheim Hines (shoulder) and linebacker Darius Leonard (ankle) returned on a limited basis, and safety Khari Willis (ankle/groin) and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (ankle) remained limited participants.
Wentz (ankle) practiced in full for the second straight day.