Can Rushing Attack Get In Gear?

For offensive coordinator Tom Moore and quarterback Peyton Manning, the philosophy used to be that if an opposition is keeping two safeties back in hopes of keeping the passing game in check, then you run the football. On plenty of occasions, Peyton Manning has stepped to the line with a pass play called, seen two safeties deep and checked into a run.

Now, though, that does not happen as frequently as it has in the past. The Colts beleaguered running game really gives the opposition no reason to bring an extra defender down. Indianapolis' rushing game is producing just 73.6 yards a game and 3.4 yards a carry compared to 106.6 and 3.8 in 2007.

In five games this season the Colts haven't even mustered a two yards a carry average and in seven games didn't gain more than 75 yards total on the ground. Addai has seen his rushing yards cut nearly in half from his 1,072 in 2007 to 544 in 2008.

Manning has changed fewer plays to runs than in the past
Andy Lyons/Getty

What's the problem? Coach Dungy can tick of a long list of possible causes: "It's been a little bit of everything," he said. "It's been offensive linemen in differently, different backs in, our backs being a little bit nicked up and not getting that rhythm with the linemen. It's been just assignments, penalties here or there, heard this wrong, didn't block this right, very much what I said about the run defense in '06. When it comes together and we do it right, I think we're very capable of having some big run days."

Indianapolis wants to run the ball. Peyton Manning in particular wants to run and knows what doing so creates for the Colts offense.

"Our goal every game all season long has been to try to establish the run," Manning said. "You always kind of feel like, 'Today might be the day that things are going to pop.' I think if you look at us statistically, we've always tried to be balanced. We always feel the most comfortable when we're balanced. There's no surprise that we're going to try to be balanced from here on out."

If Addai or Rhodes is able to get going early it should do two things: It forces the Chargers to keep their linebackers in position, and it gets the secondary on its heels and thus allows Manning to exploit the San Diego defensive backs with play-fakes and double-pumps.

An inability to run effectively early against San Diego will render the play-action ineffective and the play-fake will lose its bite. Peyton Manning has proven all season long that he can overcome such a run/pass imbalance. But that's a lot to ask, especially in a playoff game on the road.

So if the running game is again for naught, can the Colts beat San Diego using a pass-heavy offense? San Diego will likely sit back and keep the passing game in front of the defense and not give Manning throws outside the numbers. Manning will need to stay patient and work the ball down the field. Manning's gotten better at doing this, but will still take his chances deep.

Until the Colts show an ability to run effectively, do not expect Ron Rivera to change much a two safeties deep look. Also, if Indianapolis is one-dimensional, look for Rivera to send OLBs Shaun Phillips and Jyles Tucker after the quarterback more often.

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