ACCEPTING THE CHALLENGE

The Colts have rushed for nearly 150 yards a game over the last two games - and a three-game winning streak has moved the team into first-place in the AFC South. 'The last few weeks have been really good,' Colts center Jeff Saturday said.

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Colts Run Game Improving Dramatically Late in the 2010 NFL Season
INDIANAPOLIS – The conversation left a mark on Charlie Johnson.

And as Johnson sees it, Jim Caldwell's words were an imant moment for the Colts' offensive line this season.

So, if Caldwell – in his second season as the Colts' head coach – doesn't necessarily recall what he specifically said to Johnson and the rest of the Colts' offensive line, the Colts' starting left tackle said the result is what has mattered in recent weeks and what will matter moving forward.

The line is run-blocking better, Johnson said. As a result, the run offense has improved.

That, Johnson and others said this week, has meant a more balanced, more-productive Colts offense entering the regular-season finale.

"Coach Caldwell approached us and said, 'We're not going to go anywhere without you guys,'' Johnson said Wednesday as the AFC South-leading Colts (9-6) prepared to play the Tennessee Titans (6-9) in the regular-season finale at Lucas Oil Stadium Sunday at 4:15 p.m.

"It kind of stuck with us and was one of those things where you said, 'Wow. He's right. As we go, the team kind of goes.' You can kind of see it, with the way we've been able to run the ball the last couple of weeks, and the way Peyton's been able to throw the ball. It's kind of opened us up.

"We accepted the challenge, and hopefully, we'll improve and keep going."

The Colts not only have improved in recent weeks, they have done so in striking fashion.

"The last few weeks have been really good," Colts center Jeff Saturday said. "I feel like the coaching staff has committed to it and our running backs are running hard. The line's blocking well.

"You talk about the run game: the more you do it, the better you're going to be at it."

After finishing 31st in the NFL in rushing in 2008 and 32nd last season, the Colts ranked 32nd in the area much of this season, and in only three of the first 13 games did they rush for more than 100 yards – victories over the New York Giants (160 yards), Washington (170) and Houston (107).

They also rushed for 97 yards in a victory over Kansas City.

The Colts in the last two games rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville and added a season-high 191 yards this past Sunday against Oakland.

It was the first time since 2006 the Colts have rushed for more than 150 yards in back-to-back games, and in the game before that, the Colts rushed for 87 yards against Tennessee.

The Colts won all three games, ending a three-game losing streak and moving from second-place in the AFC South into first-place in the division.

"It's been a good balance," Caldwell said. "It has worked for us. We have run the ball better, and we haven't had to rely on the pass as much. I think that's good, but every week dictates a little different requirement from your unit based on the defense.

"Our offense is still kind of based on what we see. That's kind of how we function, so there are games when maybe we could throw a little bit more. There are games we run a little more. It just sort of depends on what we see.

"I will not deny the fact that our balance has been pretty good the last two or three weeks."

Saturday said while health and continuity – the line has started the same lineup four consecutive weeks – has played a role in the improvement, what also has mattered is an increased commitment to the area.

The Colts have rushed 32, 24 and 39 times the last three games; in the five games before that they never rushed more than 22 times.

"You keep dialing them up, defenses get tired and you get into a rhythm on the offensive line the same way quarterbacks and receivers get into a rhythm in the passing game," Saturday said. "It shows up late in games, getting big yardage and chewing up clock late in games.

"Not every run is a great run. Not every run is a perfect run. It's exactly like the pass game, but we're growing as a group and guys are growing in confidence, and that goes a long way to making you a better player."

Attaining that balance, while difficult, has been crucial to success for the Colts. In six losses this season, the Colts have rushed for 49.9 yards a game.

In nine victories, they have averaged just more than 120 yards rushing.

"What we try to do is not divide the offense," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "You don't divide a team, offense/defense. We don't divide the offense. The offensive execution has been better the past two weeks. And there's no question the balance has been better the last couple of weeks.

"It makes your offense better overall. That's pretty obvious."

And while Johnson credits Caldwell's words at least in part with the improvement, Caldwell said the reason is more basic. Asked about the conversation Wednesday, Caldwell smiled.

"Would it offend you if I said, 'I don't recall?'' he said.

Caldwell then added, "Every week it's part of our job as coaches to emphasize what we think are some of the most important factors in a particular game, or in a situation. That's what we try to do from time to time. It's nothing unusual or out of the ordinary, nothing special.

"But I do think we have a group of guys who do respond, particularly when they know something has to change in terms of just getting us to the point where we're better in some areas. I think our offensive line did a tremendous job over the last few weeks of just kind of taking it upon themselves to find a way to be very consistent in that phase.

"I would attribute most of it to those guys playing together well. They have good, solid leadership and I think we're seeing some of the results of their hard work."

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