INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts running back Marlon Mack had the most productive game of his young career on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
Mack led a red-hot Colts run game that totaled 220 yards — the team’s highest total since 2007 — which helped stop a four-game skid and secure a resounding 37-5 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.
By the end of the game, Mack had gashed the Bills' defense for five plays of 10-plus yards and earned new single-game career highs in carries (19), rushing yards (126), total yards (159) and total touchdowns (two).
“It’s fun. It’s fun,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said regarding the team’s offensive performance. “In between series, talking to Andrew (Luck) — just when the run game gets going like that — he kept saying, ‘Hey, let’s just keep running it, let’s keep running it.’ The O-line, you can’t say enough about how they played.”
Mack set himself up for a big day in the first half, carrying the ball 11 times for for 63 yards (5.7 avg) to go with two receptions for 33 yards (16.5 avg) for a total of 96 yards in the first two quarters. He had a 29-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter and followed it up with a two-point conversion on a carry up the middle.
The second-year back spearheaded a Colts rushing attack that totaled 116 yards in the first half, which is the most by the team since 2010. The total is also tied for the sixth most first-half rushing yards by the franchise since 1950.
“Everybody just trusting the process and just being locked in and focused,” Mack said after the game about the improvement in the run game. “From the O-line to the tight ends to us to the quarterback to the receivers, everybody going out there and doing their job. It’s just going out there and finishing.
“It feels great to get your first 100-yard game," Mack continued. "Shout out to the O-line and the tight ends; those guys who helped me get there. So, cheers to them.”
Mack led the charge, but he was far from the only one partaking in the run game’s domination. Also chipping in were a pair of Colts rookies: Nyheim Hines with five carries for 47 yards (9.4 avg) and Jordan Wilkins with 46 yards on 6 carries (7.7 avg).
“I get to stay fresh ‘cause I got the young guys behind me, and they always come in and do a job well done," Mack said. “I know when I come out, them young guys gonna tote it just like me, so you’ve gotta be ready and always on go.”
IT ALL STARTS UP FRONT
Obviously, the run game can’t be successful without things going well up front on the offensive line, and everybody was quick to lend praise to the unit after the game.
“The guys in the locker room all week long have been talking about — for a couple weeks now — let’s get this thing going,” Reich said. “And we really wanted to get it going on offense, starting with the run game. And man, the the O-line came out and just dominated up front against a great defense.”
Wilkins, who had his most productive game since Week 2, put the run game’s performance on the big guys up front.
“First off, I wanna give all the credit to our O-line and our coaching staff. We’ve been focusing on the run game every day since the start of the week,” he said. “We need to help Andrew out somehow, and our O-line took it onto themselves and they opened up holes for all of us. And it just makes it fun and easy on our job as running backs to run when there’s holes all over, and that was the case today.”
The Colts haven’t been without injuries up front, and it’s led to a consistent shuffle in the lineup. Sunday’s game was only the second time this season the Colts were able to use the same starting five — Anthony Castonzo (left tackle), Quenton Nelson (left guard), Ryan Kelly (center), Mark Glowinski (right guard) and Braden Smith (right tackle) in consecutive games.
However, the run game has really taken off in both games with this unit, as the Colts ran the ball for a previous season-high 127 yards last week against the New York Jets. It’s had a positive impact on the passing game as well, as quarterback Andrew Luck hasn’t been sacked once in the last two games.
“We were all on the same page. Everyone was doing their jobs. Ryan (Kelly) was making great ‘MIKE’ points,” Nelson said. “Everyone was listening to Ryan’s call and then executing their responsibility, tight ends included. The running backs were hitting the holes hard, which I think that led to our dominance in the run game.”
Nelson was famously quoted at this year’s Scouting Combine that he wanted to take away his opponent’s will to play throughout the game. Following Sunday’s game, he was asked if the Colts’ line was able to just that against the Bills.
“I think we did that as an offensive line today. We were rushing the ball and didn’t have many negative plays in the running game. We had two three-and-outs to start the game, and no one was worried at all. We knew we were gonna get the stuff going," Nelon said.
The Colts were able to get through Sunday’s game with a clean bill of health on the offensive line, which means this group’s chemistry will only get stronger moving forward.
“I feel like we’re starting to get a hang of this new unit we were playing with the last two games," Nelson said.