Season in Review:
Brown was drafted to be an explosive addition to the backfield and as an alternative to Addai in order to take carry some of the load and prevent Addai from getting too beat up. Brown spent most of 2009 on the injury report and averaged 3.6 yards per attempt on 78 carries, with three touchdowns.
He finished the season healthy, but averaged only 2.9 yards a carry in the postseason. It's entirely possible that he could have been nursing a nagging injury during the playoffs, but he certainly did not finish the season strong.
Amid a great deal of speculation regarding his status as the unquestioned starter after Brown was drafted, Addai had another productive season, scoring 13 touchdowns on the ground and through the air, chipping in another 51 receptions, though he failed to rush for 1,000 yards and averaged under four yards a carry. He came up big in the postseason, averaging 4.5 yards a carry in the playoffs.
Addai was the player the Colts looked to inside the ten and, more often than not, he delivered. The 2009 campaign was one in which Addai needed to make a statement about his present and future with the team and he did just that.
Hart saw the bulk of his action when Brown was out of the lineup and Addai needed a breather and Simpson's biggest contributions were in the return game and in garbage time, as he ripped off a pair of impressive touchdown runs late in games with Indianapolis way ahead. But, his performance on kick returns was average at best and Hart managed only 70 yards on 26 carries, for a 2.7 average.
From a talent perspective, the Colts have one of the most balanced, best three-headed attacks in the NFL. Brown and Addai are first-round picks and have the potential of Addai tearing defenses up with slashing runs and short passes, with Brown bulling over defenders, then accelerating into the secondary for long gains.
The potential is there, it just hasn't been realized. If Brown and Addai were not available due to injury or needing a breather, Hart is capable of filling in for a few snaps per game in the running game, passing game, and even as a pass blocker.
If these three players can stay healthy and Indianapolis can give them the touches that they need — the Colts finished 31st in the league in rushing attempts per game, "beating" the Arizona Cardinals 22.9-22.8 — they can be very effective, particularly since many defenses are playing Indianapolis to pass with the omnipresent threat of Peyton Manning.
The issue is that the Colts showed barely a passing interest in the running game in 2009 and Brown was hurt for most of the season, so they were unable to realize their potential. When a team finishes 32nd in the NFL in rushing, there is plenty of blame to be passed around. Some of that blame should fall to the offensive line, some of it should fall to the play calling, but, ultimately, the men carrying the ball are culpable for any shortcomings. Facing defenses that were guarding against the pass first and second, they averaged 3.5 yards per rushing attempt — the Cardinals averaged 4.1 — and they finished with only 1,294 yards rushing as a team. Those numbers are simply unacceptable.
Even with limited opportunities and touches, they should have been able to do more with the chances they were given. Change needs to start at the top and work its way down. Following the 2008 season, the drafting of Brown, and the ascension of Jim Caldwell to head coach, there appeared to be a paradigm shift. That shift never occurred and the 2009 season got away from the Indianapolis offense, as they began to lean on Manning more and more as the season wore on.
Simpson is another area that needs improvement in terms of the return game. If the fourth running back is going to only be involved in the kicking game and in garbage time, the Colts need to find a better replacement.
Chances are that Indianapolis will not be willing to invest more resources in the running back position through the draft considering that they already have two first round picks at the position. They could add a return specialist along the lines of Darren Sproles at some point late in the 2010 draft, but the thinking in the front office will likely be that the savior of the running game is already on the roster.
Hart may get some looks in the offseason and can help his standing on the depth chart by having a solid mini-camp, but he will eventually be overcome and passed up by the superior skills of Brown and Addai.
The recent releases of talented veterans Brian Westbrook and LaDanian Tomlinson are intriguing. Both men are excellent two-way players and could contribute in the passing game as well as the running game. Thinking that either will pass up on a top backup job or a possible starting job in order to play third fiddle to Brown and Addai, though, is very wishful thinking.
Chances are that the Colts will open the 2010 season with a very similar depth chart. Simpson may be replaced by a draft pick or Lance Ball, but the likelihood of the team bringing in a veteran to fill out the position is slim to none. The Indianapolis rushing attack will need to improve next season the way most NFL players improve; through hard work and commitment.
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