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Daily Notebook: Why The Colts Have So Much Confidence In Jonathan Taylor Against 8+ Defenders In The Box

The Colts know opposing defenses will put eight defenders in the box to try to stop Jonathan Taylor, and are working to find ways to keep their ground game effective against those loaded fronts. 

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The Colts know opposing defenses are going to do whatever they can to slow down Jonathan Taylor, who enters Week 12 leading the NFL in rushing yards (1,122) and rushing touchdowns (13).

Then again, the Colts knew that fact going into last week's game against the Buffalo Bills, a team that entered Week 11 allowing 3.8 yards per carry – the third-lowest average in the NFL. Taylor still ran for a season high 185 yards on 32 carries, good for an average of 5.8 yards per attempt.

And a big reason why Taylor's numbers were so good is how well he and the Colts handled things when the Bills stacked defenders the box.

Taylor rushed 11 times into eight-man fronts in non goal-to-go situations* against Buffalo, per Pro Football Focus, and gained 54 yards – a shade under five yards per carry. The NFL average for yards per carry against eight-man fronts is 3.7 yards, per PFF.

So even in the face of the Bills loading up blue jerseys in the box on Sunday, Frank Reich felt confident in continuing to give the ball to Taylor behind the Colts' offensive line.

"When you get against a loaded box, then what you have to count on is you have to count on creating some softness somewhere inside," Reich said. "Chances of creasing something maybe are lower – you still could, you still can, but you still can get push. That's what I saw (vs. Buffalo). That's what gave me confidence to kind of keep calling runs even against a heavy box.

"In a lot of scenarios with all the eight-man boxes we were getting, I might've been tempted to call a few more passes to kind of soften that up a little bit, but what I kept seeing was a surge by our o-line. That kind of gave us the confidence to keep calling it."

*We're removing goal-to-go since those frequently feature eight+ defenders in the box and can skew a yards per carry average given the tight space near the end zone.

Taylor has run into loaded boxes 63 times this season, fourth-most in the NFL, and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry on those rushes, good for the third-highest clip among players with 40 or more such attempts. His 350 yards on those carries also rank third, and his 4.1 yards after contact average is second.

But most impressively, Taylor is scoring a touchdown or picking up a first down on 38 percent of those runs, the highest rate among running backs in the NFL. Only one other running back (Green Bay's A.J. Dillon) is scoring a touchdown or getting a first down on more than 30 percent of his runs into eight-man fronts.

"We like our chances if we can get everybody covered up and they got a guy one-on-one, usually hopefully leave them a corner or safety and they gotta tackle them one-on-one," tight end Jack Doyle said. "And good luck to them on that."

Plenty of credit here goes to the Colts' offensive line and tight ends. And the goal for Reich and the Colts' offensive staff is to scheme up those one-on-one opportunities in space – the latter of which is tough to find with so many bodies congesting a small area of the field.

But, as Reich said: "He doesn't need much" space.

Plenty of teams would give their quarterback the leeway to get to the line of scrimmage, read the number of defenders in the box and if it's loaded, check from a run to a pass. But when Taylor is rolling the way he has been, it's easier for Reich to just run the damn ball no matter what.

"We love that JT, we love that about this team," Doyle said. "We love that we think we can run the ball on our terms."

Wednesday's practice report

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