Rushing to Judgment

The Colts currently rank dead last in the NFL in rushing. What can be done to fix the situation? Who can help? Brad Keller has some answers and some ideas.

It's easy to blame the offensive line for the issues facing the Colts anemic running game thus far this season.  However, it's worth noting that there are a number of other factors in play that are affecting the team's overall performance — they are currently averaging 67.8 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry.

Offensive Line:

Getting Ryan Lilja back should help the Colts' running game
AP Photo/Tom Strattman

Although the offensive line is not solely to blame, they must take their share of the blame.  Jeff Saturday's return has helped, but the Colts have struggled to field the same starting five week in and week out, Jamey Richard and Charlie Johnson have played at least one position, and Mike Pollak is another rookie that has been heavily involved.  The lack of cohesion and not having their best five guys on the field at all times has certainly hurt the productivity of the running game.

When Ryan Lilja comes back, and if Saturday and Tony Ugoh can stay healthy, this unit should improve starting in Week 7 — or possibly later, since Lilja can return to the starting lineup up through Week 10.

In the meantime, they simply need to do a better job of finishing blocks, getting off the ball, and not allowing the opposing team's front seven to push them around.

Level of Competition:

The Vikings and Bears represent the third- and fourth-best run defenses in the NFL, respectively.  The Jaguars are in the top half of the league.  Baltimore, the Colts' Week 6 opponent, is first in the league in run defense.

Although it's foolish to blame the plight of the running game solely on matchups — after all, Indianapolis has no choice but to play the teams that are on the schedule — the road does get much easier, though, as ten of their next 11 games are against teams ranked in the bottom half of the league against the run.

Indianapolis faces only one top five team against the run the rest of the way — the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 10, currently ranked second in the league — but that also means that they will have played the top four run defenses in the NFL in the first ten weeks.

Ineffectiveness of the Vertical Passing Game:

One of the reasons that the Colts were able to run the ball successfully in the past — both for average and total yards — was that defenses backed off of the line of scrimmage for fear that they would get burned by the deep ball if they didn't.

At this point, Indianapolis is averaging only 6.7 yards per pass attempt, so there is very little threat that they will make the defense pay with a big play if the defense stacks the box to stop the run.

If Peyton Manning is able to get the vertical passing game going, it will loosen up the defense, stop them from playing so close to the line, and open up rush lanes for Joseph Addai and the other running backs on the team.

Ineffectiveness of the Offense in General:

If the passing game isn't working and the running game isn't working, then the offense as a whole isn't working.  The offense has not been able to stay on the field, has not been able to convert third downs consistently, and is currently losing the time of possession battle by nine minutes per game, as opposed to 20 seconds per game in 2007 and a minute per game in 2006.

Currently, the Colts offense has run 236 plays for the season, while their opponents have run 261 plays.  That breaks down to a disparity of 100 plays by season's end, which would be the worst differential of the Manning era — yes, worse than his rookie season — and only the third time in his career that the opponent's quarterback has presided over more plays than he has.

The more plays you have, the more opportunities you have to make a play.  It's that simple.  And, the more plays you run, the more likely you are in the lead, running the ball, with your opponent's offense on the sideline.

Personnel Use:

Joseph Addai is the starting tailback for this team, but he is not the only tailback on this team.  In the offseason, the Colts signed Dominic Rhodes, drafted Mike Hart, and kept both men on the roster for a reason — to get the ball in their hands, not to use them only in case of an emergency.

Indianapolis has not used Dominic Rhodes much since bringing him back in the offseason
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Through four games, Addai has carried the ball 60 out of 68 times — only rushes by tailbacks were taken into account — which is 88 percent of the carries that went to running backs.

Rhodes has only seven carries for 31 yards and seven receptions for 34 yards, while Hart has a meager one carry for seven yards. At this point in 2006, Rhodes had 59 carries for 189 yards and three touchdowns and five receptions for 36 yards. At this point in 2007, Kenton Keith had 23 carries for 134 yards and two receptions for two yards.

Both men have different running styles than Addai and both are better at making yards after initial contact, which will continue to be a very valuable attribute, at least through Week 10.  It is time to give them an opportunity to show what they can do.

Even though Rhodes averaged only 3.4 yards per carry in 2006, that's still about as well as the Colts are doing right now.

And, if history is anything to shout about, Addai won't be able to handle 240 carries for the season and carry the load in the playoffs — provided the Colts make the playoffs, which is certainly not a lock at this point.

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