Frank Gore shrugs off the notion his 28-carry workload in his previous start was a bit too much.
Sure, he’s 32, old for an NFL running back, but the Indianapolis Colts’ leading rusher reiterated Wednesday he’s ready for as many carries as his team will give him in Sunday’s game at the Atlanta Falcons (6-3).
Gore’s secret to the fountain of youth? He works tirelessly in the offseason with the younger players to keep his edge. And when he’s no the field, most defenders don’t get a clear shot at him because of his speed and elusiveness.
“I was cool. I was cool with it,” Gore said of getting 28 carries, the most since 2011, and gaining 83 yards in a 27-24 home win over the Denver Broncos. “Whatever they want me to do here, I’m willing to do it.”
The Colts (4-5) are sure to rely upon him as a steady contributor against the Falcons (6-3), who have the NFL’s third-ranked run defense. The injury loss of quarterback Andrew Luck means 40-year-old backup Matt Hasselbeck gets his third start of the season. He won the previous two at Houston and against Jacksonville.
Hasselbeck conceded it’s ideal to run the ball. That makes life easier for him and opens up passing lanes. The opposite is also true. If the Colts are going to have a balanced offense, an effective passing game can open up running lanes for Gore.
“Well, a quarterback’s best friend is pass protection, but a running game helps that,” said Hasselbeck, a 17th-year pro who will make his 155th career start in 204 NFL games Sunday. “I would say the best thing the running game does is it takes guys who are pass rushers and they got to play gap control, they know that they’re getting graded on how they hold the gaps and play the run.
“That’s why when you’re down in a game and you’re just throwing the ball all the time, it makes it very, very difficult for someone like a tackle or a guard. But yeah, the running game, I think we all want to be balanced in running the ball and having Frank and these guys, it’s a huge help.”
The Colts haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in 49 games. Gore is well aware of that dubious distinction. He’s rushed for 599 yards and four touchdowns on 148 carries this season. His backup is ninth-year pro Ahmad Bradshaw, a two-time Super Bowl winner, who has gained 47 yards on 18 carries in four games. He also has three receptions for 24 yards, one of those for a touchdown against Denver.
Hasselbeck said being able to run the ball sets a tone, not just for running backs but for the offensive line.
“I know the offensive line, they love runs,” he said. “Usually you sit up and the night before the game you talk about what the first play of the game is going to be and just about every play caller I’ve ever been around thinks of what kind of night’s sleep is (his) offensive line going to get based on the plays that (he) picks. That doesn’t mean it’s not a pass, but you want those guys to feel good that they can come off the ball, fire out, come off the ball, be aggressive and that’s just what they prefer to do.”
Gore said the Broncos game epitomized a balanced offense. The Colts ran the ball 40 times for 120 yards and a touchdown while Luck completed 21-of-36 passes for 252 yards and two TDs.
“I think when you’re playing the game of football, it should be like that,” Gore said. “It helped the defense control the clock, put us in better situations, put the passing game in better situations. I think that probably was the best offensive game as far as four quarters, staying on the field, moving the ball, getting tough yards. I think as an offense we’ve got to keep doing it.”
As for his knack of being able to avoid big hits, Gore smiles and assures his body is fresh, especially coming off a bye week.
“I guess I’ve just been blessed with it,” he said of the ability to make guys miss.
Falcons head coach Dan Quinn knows Gore too well. Before being hired in Atlanta for this season, he was Seattle’s defensive coordinator and had to account for Gore, then with NFC West division rival San Francisco, twice each season.
“If you had not told me the age, I would never have guessed that,” Quinn said during a Wednesday conference call about Gore being 32. “I think probably one of the things, and I’ve coached against him a lot, is that I have the most respect for (is) I think it’s his vision. He’s been part of like a gap scheme where he totally understands the run fits. In other words, he may start in an A-gap where a linebacker is ready to go fit, he cuts, cuts again.
“Often times it’s like, ‘Man, where did that 2-yard run turn into an 8-yard run and the 8 one go to a 20-yard one,’ where it looks like it’s ready to be stopped and the feet kept going. He has the ability to make some runs go from where it looks like it may be small, to where it could go bigger. I know from personal experience of coaching against him we better have our tackling just right because he’s a legit competitor for sure.”
Gore reminds how hard he works in the offseason, which in turn has him in shape for the regular-season grind.
“I feel great. It’s a blessing to say I’m 11 years in, and I feel like I’m still playing good ball,” he said. “I would say it’s all offseason (preparation). It’s the way I’m training. This offseason, I went back to my (Miami Hurricanes) college coach, coach (Andreu) Swasey, but even training with my speed coach, Pete Bommarito. Me doing both of that, it helped me out a lot especially going back to Miami doing a lot of explosive stuff and also competing with some of the younger guys: Lamar Miller, Duke Johnson, Phillip Dorsett. Keeping up with them, I said, ‘OK, I should be alright this year.’”
Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.