Colts-Titans Preview: Can Frank Gore Carry The Offense?

In what is expected to be Chuck Pagano's final game as Colts head coach, can the home team count on Gore's ground gains for victory?

In an ideal world for the Indianapolis Colts, running back Frank Gore would rush for 109 yards in a Sunday home win over Tennessee and his team would miraculously qualify for the postseason.

Then the Colts would go on a playoff run to save head coach Chuck Pagano’s job.

But that's highly unlikely. Except for Gore’s yardage, it borders on impossible. And getting Gore those yards sounds like a reach, too.

Numerous reports suggest this will be Pagano’s final game as Colts coach, presuming the season ends Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. And end it shall unless the Colts (7-8) get nine favorable outcomes including their own to earn the tiebreaker advantage over the Houston Texans (8-7) for a third consecutive AFC South Division crown.

Pagano dismissed one Friday question pertaining to his future job status, giving the anticipated response that he hasn’t had time to worry about “that stuff.”

Worrying about how to ride Gore and make life easy on an offense with a new quarterback has kept him busy. Josh Freeman and Ryan Lindley were signed this week and join Stephen Morris, claimed off Philadelphia’s practice squad last week. None of them have taken an NFL snap this season.

The Titans will expect the Colts to rely on Gore. But the reality is the Colts haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in 55 games counting the playoffs. Gore learned of the drought after joining his new team in the offseason.

On Wednesday, the 11th-year pro was well aware of how many rushing yards he needs for his ninth career 1,000-yard season, which would enable him to join Emmitt Smith, @Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin on a select list.

The Colts haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher in a season since Joseph Addai in 2007.

Although Gore likely finishes with his lowest rushing total since his rookie season with San Francisco in 2005, he’s always said winning matters the most.

“It’d sure be nice if that came along with it, got those rushing yards and had a 1,000-yard rusher,” Pagano said Friday. “Guys are determined. Frank is a great, great teammate. He’s a warrior. He’s a great player. He’s tough as nails. He gives everything he’s got every single day, so that’d be something special but the win is the most important thing obviously.”

Pagano made a similar statement on Wednesday. When passed along, Gore said, “Wow. That would be big, man, especially with myself coming from San Fran and getting consecutive 1,000 yards (with the 49ers). Now, I’m on a new team and a team who hasn’t had a back (with 1,000 yards) since ’07.”

Gore ran for 86 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 3 victory at Tennessee. It was his second-best rushing total of the season. That was when Andrew Luck was playing quarterback.

The Colts have spent much of the week cramming as much information into the heads of their new passers while also simplifying the playbook because there’s only so much that can be learned in a short time.

And they know the Titans (3-12), who are eighth in rushing average per carry and 17th in run defense, will crowd the line of scrimmage to limit Gore.

“This is what we’ll plan for is to have nine, ten guys around the line of scrimmage first and second down, and they are not going to let us run the football, number one,” Pagano said. “They are going to dare us to throw it every snap.”

Gore has become familiar with seeing extra defenders in the box. It was common when he played for San Francisco and has been especially predictable with the Colts’ struggles on the offensive line and quarterback injuries.

“Who wouldn’t do that?” Gore said.

Pagano said the Colts might not decide on a starting quarterback until Sunday morning. As for  injuries, outside linebacker Trent Cole has been ruled out with a concussion along with Luck (abdomen, kidney) and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (shoulder, ribs, back). Reserve safeties Colt Anderson (ankle) and Winston Guy Jr. (hamstring, shoulder) as well as reserve linebacker Sio Moore (knee) are questionable.

Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton spoke about the importance of pass catchers getting their timing down with the new passers. He sounded encouraged.

“Right now they are eating and sleeping here learning all the plays, but these last two days they’ve been looking good so it doesn’t look like we are missing a beat,” Hilton said.

Added wide receiver Donte Moncrief, “Those guys are ready to get out there and show people they can play.”

As for the importance of the game, outside linebacker Robert Mathis said players will be expected to perform well in the finale.

“When you touch the field, you have something to play for so you go out and be professional and you want to win at all costs,” Mathis said. “That’s what we’re playing for and that’s the game plan.”

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.


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