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Colts Mailbag: Dispelling myths on runs up the middle and tight ends; where Jonathan Taylor, Zack Moss rank in NFL's best running back duos

The Colts mailbag is back for Week 9 with questions on why the Colts run the ball up the middle so much and if Shane Steichen is targeting his tight ends enough in the passing game. 


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 the next Colts Mailbag by clicking here. I'll also be checking the comments on our Official Colts Podcast YouTube page and will answer some listener questions in here, too.

Let's get after this week's questions:

Scott Cassel, Auburn, Ind.: It seems like we continue to run the ball up the middle and continue to get blocked. Why is Shane repeating Frank's mistakes?

JJ Stankevitz: I think the issue here, Scott, is a little bit of confirmation bias – runs up the middle that go nowhere are usually more memorable, since they might feel like wasted plays when watching on TV or in the stands. 

But the Colts are actually one of the NFL's best teams at running up the middle. Per Pro Football Focus, the Colts are averaging 5.0 yards per carry when running up the middle, fourth-highest in the NFL – and that's also with the fourth-most runs up the middle (77) of any team entering Week 9. 

The Colts have nine explosive (10+ yard runs) up the middle, second only to the Baltimore Ravens' 10, and their 18 first down rushes up the middle are tops in the NFL. 

And the Colts are getting stuffed at the line (no gain or a loss) on 14.3 percent of those runs, 13th-lowest. 

Head coach Shane Steichen has called the second-most inside zone runs (101) in the NFL this season, per Pro Football Focus, and the Colts have the seventh-highest average yards per carry (4.9) on those plays in the league. 

The Colts also have the most explosive (10+ yard) runs on inside zone entering Week 9 with 11, and are behind only the Philadelphia Eagles in first downs on inside zone runs (27). 

And it actually isn't all that far off from what the Colts did in 2022, when they were fifth in total inside zone runs (146) and seventh in yards per carry on inside zone (4.7). 

Not all inside zone runs go up the middle, of course, but it's a decent starting point. 

So the Colts have proven to be efficient and explosive even with a high volume of runs up the middle. To me, that's a strength of this offense, not a weakness. Don't let a few runs stopped for no gain or a yard get it twisted.

James Sims, Robinson, Ill.: Why do we not throw to the tight ends?

JJ Stankevitz: Colts tight ends combined for seven targets, three receptions, 50 yards and a touchdown in Week 8 against the New Orleans Saints, a game in which Gardner Minshew attempted 41 passes. So it wasn't the highest volume game for that group – Drew Ogletree's touchdown was impressive, though – but over the course of the season the Colts' tight ends, collectively, are:

  • T-12th in targets (51)
  • 19th in receptions (32)
  • 11th in yards (425)
  • T-4th in touchdowns (4)
  • T-6th in first downs (24)
  • T-4th in explosive (15+ yards) receptions (11)
  • T-2nd in yards per reception (13.3)
  • 7th in yards after catch per reception (5.3)
  • 13th in yards per route run (1.41)
  • 10th in passer rating when targeted (107.1)
  • 6th in deep target (20+ yards downfield) percentage (9.8%)
  • 7th in PFF run blocking grade (67.2)

Seems like the Colts are using their tight ends just fine.

Ed Helinski, Auburn, N.Y.: Where would you rank Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss as a 1-2 rushing punch amongst other NFL teams? So far together they've been very effective.

JJ Stankevitz: What's wild is since Taylor made his season debut in Week 5 against the Tennessee Titans, Moss has got closer to NFL rushing leader Christian McCaffrey. McCaffrey leads the NFL with 653 rushing yards while Moss is second at 589; entering Week 5, McCaffrey had 459 rushing yards to Moss' 280. 

But from Weeks 5-8, the Colts have 569 rushing yards (second in the NFL) and are averaging 5.0 yards per carry (third) – and those numbers haven't been juiced by the presence of a dynamic quarterback in Anthony Richardson, who sustained a season-ending shoulder injury in the second quarter of Week 5. 

So, long story short: The Taylor-Moss combo seems pretty comfortably at the top of the NFL's best rushing duos.

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