Posted by: Bruce Allen | December 4, 2014

Colts’ Running Game: Blow It Up

Colts linemenThree quarters of the way through the 2014 season, it’s time to get real about the Indianapolis Colts and the running game they will need, someday, to compete for a Super Bowl.

The Colts are, at this time, pinning their hopes on Boom Herron to carry them to the promised land.  Herron, who is the kind of back they need, is, in turn, one solid tackle away from a season-ending injury. Trent Richardson was a beast in college who lacks the body type to be successful in the NFL.  It has taken this long to discern this owing to a list of events, changes and excuses that go back to his rookie season with the Browns.  It is possible that Richardson could be successful with some teams–teams that actually create holes in the opponents’ defensive line–but his talents, such as they are, are mostly wasted with the Colts.  He is a great pass blocker and can catch the ball out of the backfield.  He just can’t convert on third and short, and with his build that should be virtually automatic.

The Colts’ running game relies, in large measure, on our offensive linemen going straight up against their guy and moving him off the line of scrimmage.  In Lucas Oil Stadium, that simply has never worked.  The Colts’ scheme, such as it is, requires extraordinary backs who can produce only mediocre results within a scheme that doesn’t work.  (In some other town, Edgerrin James would have accumulated half again as many yards with the same effort.)  Our offensive lines can pass block–sort of–but cannot run block in the way they are being coached.  Can’t, and never have been able to.  Again, as we enter The Luck Years, he makes a weak pass-blocking line look better than it is with a quick release, willingness to get hit, and running ability.Edgerrin James

Watch the New England TV broadcast again, and see the announcers using the Telestrator to show how the Patriots’ running game, relying on down blocking, with either a back or receiver coming across the formation to block, created huge lanes for the back, in our case some obscure rookie who set some kind of record simply following his blocking.  This whole diagonal scheme, compared to the Colts’  vertical approach, mano a mano, is easier on the linemen and the backs, and susceptible to the stretch play as well as play action.

The Colts need to re-examine their offensive line and their entire approach to running the ball.  Things would look better at this point had Vick Ballard not gone down for the second year in a row, a brutal indicator that he may never reach his potential with the Colts.  Bradshaw may be done.  Richardson can’t do it on this level.  Otherwise, there isn’t anyone.

The Colts need their center, #72, to become the talent the entire staff tell us he will be.  The guard situation is troubling, as we’ve devoted several high draft choices and trades that, at this point, haven’t worked out at all. (Grigson was an offensive guard; he should be better at identifying and signing guys at that position who can move their guy off the line of scrimmage. ) Costanzo is everything you could ask for at left tackle, while Cherilus has perhaps a few good years left.  Otherwise, the offensive line gets pushed around every week, and any running game at all is generally the result of heroic effort by Herron or Luck or a mistake by the defense.  Getting Allen #83 back will help the running game.

The Colts will win the South again this year, probably finishing at 11-5.  They will host a divisional game in week one of the playoffs that they are likely to lose, unless Herron and the offensive line are healthy and at full strength.  In high school we had a series of plays we called “crossbucks” which, theoretically only, would produce running lanes allowing the back to run against the grain, so to speak, and produce solid results.  The Colts are built to run such a series on second and third downs.  Even Richardson could probably give 5 yards a carry with such a scheme.

The Colts have other problems, notably their inability to stop the run against good teams.  It looks like they have the players to make plays, but they give up a lot of rushing yards and a lot of big plays.  Time of possession, for the defense, is an issue, as they rank next to last in red zone defense, permitting touchdowns at something like a 70% rate. They are tough on 3rd down.  Lots of defensive backs who are near plays but not necessarily breaking up plays. Nothing approaching a pass rush as in years past.  34 Sacks thus far in 2014 vs. 42 sacks 2013.      23rd in team defense in 2014 vs. 13th overall in 2013.  They are way easier to score on than they were in 2013.

The fact that Luck has more tools and is something of a budding genius does nothing to obscure the fact that the Colts are unable to reliably run the ball and have trouble stopping the run against good teams.  They have exactly the make-up of a team that wins its first playoff game at home and goes on the road in week two to cold weather and gets hammered, either in Denver or New England.

Choose your poison, or just win out and see what happens.  The set-up is the same as that very old joke that ends with the words, “Good.  But first, chi-chi.”  Beat one, and your reward is going on the road to play the other.  Teams that do that make it to the Super Bowl all the time.  Um, no.

The Colts need to get real about their running game and their play on defense when the opponent is running the ball.  That they have enough to win the division is obvious.  The challenge for the Colts is to demonstrate they have what it takes to go on the road in the winter and play at night in cold weather in the proverbial hostile environment.  With a running game that demands offensive lineman simply push their guy out of the way and run the ball and is delusional in its belief that it can succeed doing so.  Or that Herron will have a long shelf life if he’s earning 20 carries a game, starting in Cleveland.

After the season’s over, let Richardson choose his own team and make his own deal.  Get what you can in exchange.  He is a nice guy and deserves a chance to do well.  It was not a good fit for him here in Indianapolis, not his fault.  He does lots of other things well that don’t show up in the charts.  He will continue in the NFL, as his health is surprisingly good. Go with God.

The Colts and especially Grigson need to fix both lines and refine the way they attack the line of scrimmage on offense to succeed in cold weather.  They need to increase the pressure on opposing quarterbacks coming from the middle of the line of scrimmage at all times.  They need to allow the linebackers to play in the secondary more and rush the passer less.  They need to occupy the clock and move the sticks to succeed in cold weather.

They need to run the ball.  Other than Boom Herron, they have proven unable to run the ball.

Heading into the playoffs, the Colts have reason to celebrate and reason for concern.  They have one of the best quarterbacks in football whose career is still very much ascendant.  They have a growing number of offensive weapons.  They have enough of an offensive line to allow Luck to do much of what he does, but does not produce any significant rushing yards.  It is a team built to lose in the second round of the playoffs, despite Luck, despite having perhaps the top offense in the league.  They will run into a Pittsburgh or a Denver or a New England on the road and find themselves outgunned and out-schemed.  And, if somehow they should prevail in the second round, they would need to repeat the feat, on the road, to advance to the Super Bowl.  In the winter.  At night.  And on the road.





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