WESTFIELD, Ind. – Since he debuted with the Colts in 2020, Jonathan Taylor has nine touchdowns of 20 or more yards. That's easily the most among players who've regularly played running back:
- Jonathan Taylor (9)
- Deebo Samuel (7)
- Derrick Henry (6)
- Nick Chubb (5), Dalvin Cook (5), Joe Mixon (5)
"Every play is designed to score," Taylor said, "so you just have to make sure you do your part and say hey, when I get the ball, my part is to make this one guy miss and it should be a touchdown."
Every play is designed to score. It sounds nice, right? A good, snappy quote to put in a headline (like this article did). And Taylor certainly has embodied that mindset over his first two years in the NFL.
But there's a lot more behind that quote than you might think. Let's dig into it, with the help of Colts running backs coach Scottie Montgomery.
The Right Way To Approach It
"When you hear every play is designed to score a touchdown, (some players) hear, I'm supposed to score the touchdown," Montgomery said. "So guys bounce (outside) and get a holding call on inside zone."
Another way to put it: Hero ball. And that usually causes more problems – like a holding flag – than it solves.
That's not how Taylor thinks.
"What literally hears is what he says, each play is designed to score a touchdown," Montgomery said. "So we're going to execute inside of the scheme that we put together and we're gonna do what the scheme says. And then when it's time for natural talent to take over on the second level, then we take off."
It starts with the trust Taylor has in in the playcall and the 10 other guys on the field – for linemen like Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith to open a hole, for a tight end like Mo Alie-Cox to hold the point of attack, for wide receivers like Michael Pittman Jr. and Ashton Dulin to be physical blockers downfield.
And then all the work Taylor puts in, plus his off-the-charts talent, takes over.
Montgomery used the words "accelerated vision" a few times when talking about Taylor. What does that mean?
"Just about every position that we have in this game, there's an initial read," Montgomery explained. "And there are a lot of pros that live in the initial read. They're making their read off the initial read and they're making their decision off that.
"But then there's elite guys that can take the initial read, get a read off of it, now accelerate to a new read and it turns into a big one. But the game has to be moving a little slower for you to do that."
Taylor possesses that accelerated vision, which allows him to "process just like a quarterback," Montgomery said, as he sees the field in front of him. So as he's trusting the play and his teammates, he's reading out what the defense is doing – and is able to identify what he needs to do to turn an efficient play into an explosive play.
Talent & Work Ethic
Not only can Taylor process information to identify how to get an explosive play, but he has all the natural talent and laser-focused work ethic to then execute it. Taylor explained two things that go into his ability to break tackles: A mindset, and then physical preparation (for example: staying hydrated).
And then Taylor's pure talent and feel for the game can take over.
"When you get a guy with a combination of speed, strength, off-hand weapon, a ridiculous spin move and a last-second jump cut and then he gets really skinny on contact for a guy his size — what's your plan as a defender?" Montgomery said. "You may come scallop down and to come tackle him and you don't know if he's gonna run you over, he's gonna jump cut you, you don't know if he's going to be stiff-arm you, you don't know if he's gonna spin move you. So the combination of all those things is what makes him successful."
And then, even a defender does make contact with Taylor – it might not even slow him down, let alone bring him to the turf.
"He has great body control and contact balance," Montgomery said. "That's probably one of his skills that we don't talk about a lot — he has great contact balance."
You probably remember some of Taylor's gargantuan plays last year – his emphatic 67-yard touchdown against the Patriots, his 78-yard burst against the Jets, his 76-yard dash on a screen against the Ravens – but with the help of Montgomery, let's re-visit this play that shows all these skills and traits:
In Week 4 of the 2021 season against the Miami Dolphins, Taylor took a handoff in his left hand on an outside zone play and waited for center Ryan Kelly to open a hole to his left. He accelerated through it, swatting away the outstretched arm of defensive tackle John Jenkins.
Just inside the 15-yard line, cornerback Eric Rowe dove at Taylor's legs from behind – and while Taylor used his core strength to stay balanced, he delivered a vicious stiff-arm (the "off-hand weapon" Montgomery described) to veteran safety Jason McCourty as he churned out the final five yards of the run for a touchdown.
"He got kind of hit on the arm, (Rowe) slid down his leg but he was still able to keep his core tight enough to where he could get the stiff-arm in and use the momentum to propel him into the end zone," Montgomery said. "He's really strong in his core but his contact balance and vision and all that works hadn't in hand."
If Taylor tried to bounce outside or didn't trust his teammates' execution on the front or back side of the run, a play designed to score a touchdown probably would've just got back to the line of scrimmage. If he didn't possess that accelerated vision, he wouldn't have seen what he needed to do to get in the end zone. If he didn't possess so much talent, he wouldn't have been able to keep his balance on contact and deliver that stiff-arm to get in the end zone.
And that's how Taylor brings his "every play is designed to score" mindset to life.
"He was born to run the football," Montgomery said.