Manning, Dungy Say Run Game Can Improve with Execution
INDIANAPOLIS – Peyton Manning sees the issue pretty simply.
Manning, the Colts' eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback, several times in the past few days has discussed the Colts' running game, an area that Manning and many around the team have said this week must improve.
The issue, Manning said, isn't personnel.
And it's not a recent rash of injuries.
And it's not even inexperience. Not exactly.
"The simple answer is we need to execute better," Manning said this week as the Colts (1-1) prepared to play the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2) in an AFC South game at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday at 4:15 p.m.
"We don't have a very complicated running game. Anybody that watches us play, we just have a few amount of runs we do. The ones we're doing, we have to do a better job of them. When you're watching the film, you're seeing one mistake here or there that's really affecting the play.
"We have to find a way to get everybody doing their job on the same page at the same time so we can get some better runs."
The Colts, who ranked 18th in the NFL in rushing last season at 106.6 yards per game and 18th in 2006 at 110.1 yards per game, through two games this season have rushed for 39.0 yards per game, a total that ranks 32nd in the NFL.
Starting running back Joseph Addai, a 1,000-yard rusher the past two seasons and a Pro Bowl selection last season, has rushed for 64 yards on 27 carries in two games. Dominic Rhodes – the team's backup running back – has rushed for seven yards on seven carries.
"I think it's one of those situations where it's still kind of early," Addai said. "It's a long season and you have a lot of new guys in the offense. You have to be patient and just let it happen. The biggest thing is when we have bad situations, it's not as bad as you think. It's never that bad and there's always another chance to get better. Before it's said and done, it's going to be all right."
Since preseason, injuries have been an issue on the offensive line, and the Colts ended an 18-15 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday without center Jeff Saturday, left tackle Tony Ugoh, guard Ryan Lilja and guard Mike Pollak.
Pollak missed the first two games with a knee injury, as did Saturday. Lilja is on the Physically Unable to Perform List, and Ugoh missed the second half Sunday with a groin injury.
Before the season, the Colts' projected starting line was Ryan Diem at right tackle, Pollak or veteran Charlie Johnson at right guard, Saturday at center, Lilja at left guard and Ugoh at left tackle. With Ugoh out, the line Sunday was Diem, rookie Steve Justice at guard, rookie Jamey Richard at center, veteran Dan Federkeil at guard and Johnson at left tackle.
Aside from Diem, the group has 12 regular-season NFL starts, but Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said the line's inexperience – and the absence of projected starters – isn't the primary reason for the team's lack of success running through two games.
"That's the easy thing to point to," Dungy said. " 'Well, this guy wasn't here,' or, '(Safety) Bob Sanders is out so we didn't play run defense well. Jeff Saturday's out, so we're not running the ball well.' We had runs where we knew what to do and we blocked everybody. We made some yards.
"Joseph Addai had a run that went for six yards and (wide receiver) Anthony Gonzalez ran a pass route because he didn't hear the audible. If he (Gonzalez) blocks his guy, it might be 65 yards. You look at it and say, 'Well, it's a six-yard run.' People don't know. You say, 'You only ran for 20 yards.' That might have been 90 yards with just one guy hearing the audible correctly.
"Is it easier with your five starting offensive linemen? Yeah, but it's not just that. We have to get those things straightened out and we'll be fine."
Saturday, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, may play Sunday, but Dungy said the return of one player can't be expected to dramatically increase production without improvement in other areas.
"That's the fallacy of everything: '(safety) If Bob Sanders plays, all of a sudden the run defense is going to be fine. If Jeff plays, everything's going to be fine. When (wide receiver) Marvin (Harrison) gets back we'll start throwing the ball fine,''' Dungy said. "Whoever is in there has to play.
"You can't look for one guy to save the franchise. We all have to play a little bit better on the offensive line. We all have to pick up the slack and get our run defense better and you can't just rely on one guy. Does it help to have Pro-Bowl guys in there? Yes, no question."
Dungy said this week he is far more concerned with the Colts' overall offensive execution than any specifics in the run game.
"I'm not that concerned with the running game," Dungy said. "I'm concerned that we just have to be sharp. If we know what we're doing and execute well, we're going to be fine. We've had games where people try to take the running game away and we always feel like we can throw the ball in those situations.
"Whether it's run or throw, we have to execute and do what we can do. When we get that done, the running game will be there. Now, we have to run it better to make our play-action passes go, no question about that, but that will come along as everything else, our execution in every phase, gets better."
Colts President Bill Polian said the Vikings' approach to defending the Colts Sunday meant that trying to run repeatedly would have been a foolish approach.
"I think the question is, 'Is there a way get it more productive?''' Polian said of the Colts' running game. "You'll never make happy the people who say, 'You've got to have the power running game.' No. We've never been a power running team and we're not going to be a power running team. We won the Super Bowl without being a power running team, so that sort of approach is not what we do. It's not what we're ever going to do.
"Now, can you be successful running the football against teams like this who are well-coached and who have a gigantic front four? With those kinds of people, if they're going to put eight (defenders) in the box, the answer is, 'You shouldn't try.'''
Polian, who said a team's final rushing statistics often hide the reality of what happens during the course of a game, said the inexperience of the line didn't hurt the effectiveness of the running game against Minnesota as much as it made pass-protecting difficult.
"When you're playing with essentially four rookies up there against an eight- or seven-and-half-man front with the two kahunas they have at tackle, the odds of having success running the ball are not very good," Polian said. "The first question you ask yourself when you play a team like that is, 'Can we spread them out?' Then, you ask, 'Can we protect if we spread them out?'''
"That presented a problem Sunday, as was obvious, but we were able to fight our way through it. If we have our regular offensive line, once you begin throwing the ball and you get those linebackers backed off and the linemen begin getting tired of pass-rushing, now you can run the ball and usually against teams like that the running yardage will build up in the second half – in the third and fourth quarters – when you're running draws and they're tired and you're running stretch plays and they're tired and they're playing the bootleg and those kinds of things . . . At the end of the day, somebody looks at the stat sheet and they say, 'Wonderful. They ran the ball for 112 yards.' Well, 72 came in the second half after you have thrown the ball."
Polian, like Dungy, long has said that rushing statistics are less imant than many observers believe, and that final rushing numbers in a given game pale in importance to rushing well enough to ensure the overall effectiveness of the offense.
Johnson, like many around the Colts' offense, said returning to that effectiveness is key.
"We have to (improve the run)," Johnson said. "We know that we're not going to win many games dropping back and throwing the ball 40 or however many times we throw it. We're going to have to run the ball and we're going to have to be consistent. That opens up a lot of things in our offense.
"That opens up our play-action and makes it really effective. We need to run the ball."
And the way to do so, Manning said, may not be what many observers believe, and may have nothing to do with health or inexperience, but he said it's actually fairly simple.
"Like (Colts Offensive Coordinator) Tom Moore said (Wednesday)," Manning said. "He has been coaching for a long time and he has yet to find any plays that you can run where you don't have to block anybody. That's a pretty short and sweet statement right there. Whether you toss it or hand it off – whatever you have to do – everybody has to block the right people."