Can defenses stack box to stop Frank Gore?

Because the Colts feature the NFL's No. 1 passing attack, it's doubtful foes can use many eight-man fronts to limit Gore.

Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano was chatting recently with his brother, John, the San Diego Chargers’ defensive coordinator.

Chuck made the mistake of mentioning running back Frank Gore to John.

“(I) happened to be watching the film and brought it up to him the other day,” Chuck said Wednesday during offseason training activities. “He wasn’t real happy that I brought it up to him.

“I think he rushed for 150 yards in the first quarter. Then they took him out of the game because he was gassed. He was tired.”

Chuck can laugh about that because Gore, who gashed the Chargers while playing for the San Francisco 49ers, is now the Colts’ feature back. Gore ripped off a 52-yard TD run on the opening series and finished with 158 yards rushing in that Week 16 game, although the Chargers rallied to a 38-35 overtime road win.

Now that he’s wearing Colts colors, the obvious question is how often will opposing defenses stack the box with eight defenders to limit Gore?

“Yeah, if you want to try to stop him and slow him down,” Chuck said, “I’d recommend that you’d be in an eight-man spacing.”

The Colts coach isn’t providing a defensive blueprint. He realizes if defenses use extra defenders up close, that frees up opportunities for quarterback Andrew Luck and the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense. Luck led the league with 40 touchdown passes in his third season. Now he has wide receiver Andre Johnson and first-round draft pick Phillip Dorsett to go with fellow pass catchers T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Duron Carter, among others.

“You’ve got to pick your poison defensively,” said Pagano, who was the Baltimore Ravens’ defensive coordinator before being hired by the Colts in 2012. “I’m not in the other guys’ heads … (but) you’ve got to decide what you’re going to do and who you want to take away and who are the game-wreckers, and how are you going to stop them? If you load up to stop the run, hopefully you have success running the football. We’ve got to have success for people to do that. Then it’s going to open up things for guys on the outside. I feel like we have as good a group of wideouts as anybody.”

Pagano was asked if the Colts employed an eight-man box against Gore in a Week 3 road trip to San Francisco in 2013. Gore rushed for 61 yards in the 49ers’ opening two series and was the main catalyst for a tying touchdown drive.

But he ran for just 21 yards the rest of the game as the Colts prevailed 27-7.

“Yeah, do you remember the first drive?” Pagano asked, actually referring to the 49ers’ second possession. “Yeah, and they scored a touchdown, right?

“Then what did he have after? I don’t know why they quit giving it to him. I was thankful. I was very grateful. But I don’t know why they quit giving it to him because he was gashing us. We were trying everything we possibly could to slow him down.”

Gore, 32, enters his 11th NFL season with 11,073 rushing yards and 64 TDs in his five-time Pro Bowl career.

The Colts have emphasized for three years the importance of a consistent rushing game. If they can establish that with Gore, Dan Herron and others, opposing defenses will be in the pick-your-point predicament that Pagano envisions.

Because Luck and the Colts’ passing game is so prolific, it stands to reason Gore should find plenty of running room with his new offense.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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