INDIANAPOLIS –The Colts hit two major marks last Sunday against Cleveland by starting fast and getting the running game untracked.
Indianapolis started the game off with touchdowns on its opening two possessions, a first this season. The drives totaled 25 plays and 156 yards and took up nearly 14 minutes of possession time as the Colts scored enough points on those to marches to win the game. The 14-6 advantage after those drives helped propel a 17-13 victory.
The initial possession featured seven rushes that gained 23 yards, while the second one had seven more attempts for 36 yards.
Both drives ended with touchdown runs, doubling the club's seasonal total. Indianapolis also produced four of its 10 rushing first downs on the drives, a significant improvement from a week ago when it had none in a 35-9 loss at the New York Jets. That was a day the club gained 41 yards on 17 attempts, failing to produce a first down on the ground for only the sixth time in franchise history.
The success on the ground was big for the club, and Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians would not mind more of the same as Indianapolis returns to divisional action this Sunday at Tennessee.
"That was huge for us. We haven't had it this year," said Arians of a truly potent rushing attack. "We needed to get it going, especially against that front. Once it starts going, it's easy to stay with it."
Rookie Vick Ballard got his second career start against Cleveland. He rushed 20 times for 84 yards, popping two six-yard runs on his initial carries. Ballard was an innocent victim in New York, rushing for 25 yards on eight carries as the team opted to use a passing approach predominantly to combat the Jets. Indianapolis used the no-huddle attack on five-of-11 possessions in that game.
Sunday against Cleveland was a different story as the club ran 37 times, while passing 29. It was a balance the offense has not had all season. What Arians liked, however, was the yardage production, not the volume of attempts.
"I left the running game in New York to go no-huddle. I thought we had a better chance there," said Arians. "We'll see what the game plan brings (this week) as far as numbers of runs. I don't really get caught up in the number of runs as much as the quality of runs, and we need quality runs."
Pleasing to Arians last week was the team gaining five or more yards on 16 of 37 attempts. Looking for "chunk" plays, he felt those were solid gains in this league on the ground. A successful ground attack this week at Tennessee also might open up the passing game, something Arians feels could improve from last week.
"You get some good play action going," said Arians. "I wish we had hit a couple more chunks. We left some yards out there when we had some "chunk" plays out there. On the road, we're going to have to hit those chunks off the play action. It slows the pass rush down."
A benefit last week was the health of the offensive line. In what has been an issue for the team this year in having to start multiple revolving units, Indianapolis was able to open back-to-back weeks with the same five starters.
"I think (we) solidified the offensive line two weeks in a row," said Arians. "We had the same starters (for two games). That's a first. As long as we can stay healthy up front, there should be no problem. … I like where we're at."
Ballard's attempts level was a rare moment for Colts rushers. It was the first time Indianapolis had a back with 20 or more attempts in a game since week two of the 2010 season when Joseph Addai had 20 against the New York Giants. Addai had three 20-plus games in 2009, and those were the last such individual efforts by Indianapolis until Ballard's last Sunday.
Arians has been a vocal proponent of Ballard since he was drafted out of Mississippi State, a school where Arians served two coaching tenures.
"Oh, (he's) exactly what I thought he would (be)," said Arians. "He's a good, solid back, and I think the future is bright for him."
Regular starter Donald Brown has been out since injuring knee cartilage late in the Green Bay game on October 7. Brown scored on a two-point rush in the waning seconds of the 30-27 win, and his run put Indianapolis in a three-point lead it needed in staving off the Packers.
Brown was finding a groove in his last two outings. He rushed 18 times for 62 yards against Jacksonville and 17 times for 84 yards against Green Bay. Brown had an 18-yard scoring run against Chicago in the opener and provides solid speed in running wide. His return this week is uncertain.
"Really good," said Arians Monday of Brown's recovery. "It'll be close this week. It'll be close this week for him, along with four or five other guys. I'm anxious to see on Wednesday, see who is able to go and who is not."
Arians said he was pleased also with Delone Carter's ability to run between the tackles against Cleveland, and he thinks the three different backs can add dimension to the Indianapolis offense.
Quarterback Andrew Luck has attempted 40 or more passes four times already this season, along with throwing for 300-plus yards three times. Last Sunday, the rushing attack (148) gained almost as many net yards as the passing attack (173). Luck was pleased with the rushing output.
"I think it's the yards per carry, which was good. I think it was around four something," said Luck of his being pleased with the rushing average. "To me, just to be able to string first downs together with runs (was important). We were getting into second-and-short and then getting another first down off a run. I think that's really beneficial. …It was great, a total offensive effort in running the football."
Asked Sunday after the win if he would take a win with high rushing yardage and low passing yardage every time, Arian said he would and that he would not be alone.
"He (Luck) and I both," said Arians.