INDIANAPOLIS — In 2019, the Indianapolis Colts had one of their best seasons running the football since before many of their fans were even born.
They had the seventh-most rushing yards in the NFL at 133.1 yards per game, they had the 10th-most run plays of at least 10 yards with 53, they had their fifth-best yards-per-carry average in franchise history at 4.52, and they eclipsed 2,000 rushing yards in a season for the first time since 1994.
Their rushing attack's top dog was Marlon Mack, who became one of the league's most productive runners en route to a career year.
Recently, Nick Shook of NFL.com evaluated which players in the NFL are the most explosive runners based on a minimum of 100 carries in 2019, at least 20 carries of 10-plus yards, and a certain percentage of their runs reaching at least 15 miles per hour.
Mack claimed a spot on the list, landing at No. 7, above players like Todd Gurley, Christian McCaffrey and Chris Carson. Shook writes:
7. Marlon Mack
Runs of 10-plus yards: 28
10-plus run pct: 11.3
15-plus mph pct: 20.6
We've spent enough time covering how Mack's broken hand played directly into Indianapolis' late-season descent. Without Mack, the Colts lacked the ball-carrier who broke 15 mph on 51 runs (fourth-most among running backs) and ripped off 28 runs of 10-plus yards. The team's most explosive runner will return in 2020 with the assistance of a similar back in rookie Jonathan Taylor. Multiply these numbers by two backs and consider the possibilities. It's not guaranteed, but the potential is enticing, and it shows how valuable Mack was to the Colts, even if he isn't exactly a household name.
Perhaps the most impressive part about Mack's breakout season is that he did it all despite missing 2 1/2 games with a broken hand, from which he was able to return before the initial prognosis.
Mack was the Colts' bell cow, reaching 20-plus touches in seven games, but he maintained his explosion without falling into methodical, chain-mover status.
His offensive coordinator, Nick Sirianni, certainly knows how valuable it's been to the Colts to have a capable No. 1 running back.
"Yeah, I think you have a good No. 1 back with Marlon that can do a lot of different things who is able to catch the ball out of the backfield, make explosive plays and make guys miss, get in the open field and open it up and pull away from the defense," Sirianni told reporters late last year when breaking down the Colts' backfield.
The third-year veteran finished ninth in the NFL by reaching at least 10 yards on 28 carries, was tied for third in runs of 20-plus yards and had one run of at least 40 yards (a 63-yard touchdown in Week 1 against the Log Angeles Chargers). He also had a pair of 10-plus-yard receptions.
Pro Football Focus has a metric called "Breakaway %," which measures how much of a runner's yardage is earned on big plays (runs of 15-plus yards). Mack ranked 10th in the NFL in 2019 with a 29.7-percent figure after totaling 13 such runs for 324 yards.
Another part of breaking long runs is avoiding tackles and being able to pick up yards after contact. Mack finished 12th in the NFL in yards after first contact with 693, also ranking 27th with an average of 2.81, and he was tied for 18th in avoided tackles with 39.
In total in 2019, Mack finished fifth in the league in first downs reached on runs (67), was tied for ninth in both carries (247) and rushing touchdowns (eight), was 11th in rushing yards (1,091) and tied for 23rd in yards per carry (4.4 avg.).
It was the 21st season in Colts franchise history in which a runner reached 1,000 yards, and Mack's total was the most by a Colts player since Edgerrin James' 1,506 rushing yards in 2005.