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Colts Mailbag: Jonathan Taylor, Run Game, First Down Efficiency And More

The Colts Mailbag returns for Week 5 with questions on the Jonathan Taylor and the Colts' run game, and where the team stands heading into Thursday night's game against the Denver Broncos. 

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The Colts Mailbag is back! readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here, or by taking part in the Forums. You can also send your questions to @JJStankevitz on Twitter.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Kraig Boone, Maryland: About what percentage of JT explosive runs last year were the results of Doyle and Pascal blocking? Don't see many effective wham plays this year so far.

JJ Stankevitz: This is a really good point, Kraig – the retirement of Jack Doyle, specifically, was always going to lead the Colts to change some of the things they did in the run game.

"It takes all 11 in the run game," head coach Frank Reich said. "Of course the six key guys are the five o-linemen and the tight end. So three out of those six are – you count Jack Doyle (because) you're losing probably the best blocking tight end in the NFL. We have to continue to find ways. What do we do, how do we – the tight ends are doing a fair job, but you lose a guy who is really good at that.

"We have two other guys in there that we have to find ways to put them in the best position, and I believe we will. We're four games into it and it's not been good. We, I, have to take ownership of that and I believe in the players that we have. We've got the guys here that we need and I believe we have the roster that we need. So, we'll figure it out."

Doyle was the second highest-graded run blocking tight end in the NFL in 2021, per Pro Football Focus. The Colts were able to count on him on plenty of different, effective concepts – he was tremendous on those wham blocks you mentioned last year against the Buffalo Bills, for example – and, without him, are working through finding different ways to run the ball effectively.

But just because Doyle retired does not mean Reich doesn't believe in the players he has to jump-start the run game.

"I feel very confident we're going to get the run game going," Reich said. "We've had a good process. The way we scheme plays, the way we teach it, the players that we have. We're making adjustments with players."

David Hiatt, Fort Wayne, Ind.: Two questions here. One I would like to know what we are averaging on 1st down, yard wise. I feel like it can't be much more than 2 yards. Two what percentage do we run on 1st down? I feel like it's extremely run heavy and it's not working. Thank you for your time!

JJ Stankevitz: Both good questions, David. The Colts are averaging 5.2 yards per play on first down, tied for 21st in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs, Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots (and ahead of teams like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles Rams, Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Chargers, Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals).

That number is a little misleading with how you're feeling, though – because the Colts have had the fourth-most first down plays to gain three or fewer yards (49), leading to the second-most second-and-7+ plays in the NFL (66) through four weeks.

Digging deeper: On first down run plays, the Colts are 28th in the NFL with an average of 3.5 yards per play. The league-average run rate on first down is 49.1 percent and the Colts are actually below that – they've run the ball on 45.1 percent of their first downs this season.

"If you go back and look at when we run it on first down, a lot of second-and-longs and then some third-and-longs," Reich said.

Brad Mullins, Robinson, Ill.: Why during a game do we keep trying to run a rushing play when we see all game it does not work?

JJ Stankevitz: For starters, because the Colts have a running back in Taylor who rushed for over 1,800 yards and had 20 total touchdowns last year. You're going to try to get the ball to your first-team All-Pro playmaker.

But it's a good question and one Reich talked about this week, too.

"Marcus (Brady) and I were talking about that this morning – there was a point in the second half (against Tennessee) where I said to Marcus, 'We might have to throw it on every down,'" Reich said. "I said that at one point in the second half, we might have to throw it on every down just because we weren't getting anything in the run game.

"The problem with that is, when I look over my career as a player and as a play-caller and as a coach and as a game-planner, whenever you do that and then look back and the running back only has 10 carries, you say, we abandoned the run too fast. Not you guys (the media), we say that too. You guys say that but so do we.

"Then when you have a guy like Jonathan Taylor, it weights that even more. ... Even yesterday when we're struggling running it, I'm still saying to myself, 'I've got to keep calling runs. I've got to keep calling runs.' Go back and look at last year's Super Bowl and what (Sean) McVay did in that Super Bowl, the Rams were struggling running it. I mean they were struggling running it and it wasn't much offensive production. He just kept calling runs.

"So yeah, at some point you're right. You force yourself and then the fact that it's Jonathan Taylor, it gives you confidence to keep doing that. Even if we don't always have it blocked exactly right, you can count on him that he can create by himself."

Joseph Dalloul, Terre Haute, Ind.: Not sure how to feel anymore. This was supposed to be our year! How's the team's spirits coming into this week? What are our playoff chances at this point with the Titans and Jaguars looking tougher than us?

JJ Stankevitz: The 1-2-1 Colts are a half-game out of first place in the AFC South right now, with the 2-2 Titans and 2-2 Jaguars tied atop the division. The Colts play both those teams again this month – Week 6 at home against Jacksonville and Week 7 on the road at Tennessee. So the mentality of the team is this, straight from Reich: "We're not where we want to be after four games, but we're still in position to accomplish all the goals that we want to achieve."

That is, quite literally, true. It might sound silly to start talking about how the Colts control their own destiny in Week 5, but they do: Win the next three games, and the Colts will be in first place nearing the halfway point of the season.

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