EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Entering Sunday's game against the New York Jets, the Indianapolis Colts had been without starting running back Marlon Mack for all but one game this season.
Making his return to the lineup at MetLife Stadium, however, Mack was able to remind everybody of something the Colts' offense had been missing without him.
Despite a slow start with the run game overall — Colts' backs ran the ball eight times for just 18 yards in the first half — something changed in the second half.
And despite the fact the Colts were down by 17 points to begin their first drive of the second half, they knew they needed to stick with the run — and it was the second-year back, Mack, who was able to find some holes and get some big chunks of yards.
Ultimately, the Colts would fall, 42-34, to the Jets — getting to within as close as six points in the second half before New York pulled away — but head coach Frank Reich is encouraged by what he saw in the run game, in particular, on Sunday.
"Yeah, I thought we did stay patient with the run game, even when we got behind. We talked about it at halftime (that) we didn't want to abandon it," Reich told reporters after the game. "But what helps is when you say that and then you go out and hit a couple of good runs. And Marlon got it going, had a couple nice runs, some big chunks, so that was a real positive that we can build from."
In the second half, Mack ran the ball eight times for 81 yards — including 66 yards in the third quarter alone — and finished with 89 yards on 12 carries (7.4 yards-per-carry average) overall on the day. It is the highest single-game rushing total for a Colts running back through the team's first six games.
Mack, now feeling much better after dealing with a nagging hamstring injury — and then re-aggravating it Week 2 against the Redskins — said he felt "pretty good" out on the field on Sunday, but wants to ensure his next effort comes in a win.
"I'm glad to be back," Mack said. "I'm ready for next week, and hopefully I can help this team get a 'W.' I was just glad to be back and help this team out and to do whatever I can to help."
Although down by three scores initially, the Colts' effectiveness in the run game actually helped them get back into it and cut New York's lead to six points.
"I think sticking to the run gave us a chance to get back into this ballgame," Colts quarterback Andrew Luck said.
Aside from Mack's return on Sunday, another big part of the Colts rushing for a season-high 127 yards against the Jets was the 2018 debut of starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who has also had his own hamstring issues.
It seems like no coincidence that the Colts would have their most productive rushing day of the year as they got their starting left tackle and running back into the fold. Castonzo's presence helped gel an offensive line that has dealt with its fair share of change due to injury during this young season.
"Yeah, the O-line was good, man. They created big holes for me and I was just following them," Mack said. "Shout out to them because they pretty much created it all."
Moving forward, Luck knows the Colts need to establish Mack and the run game early in games — and not have to worry about the balance in the second half — in order to keep defenses on their toes much more often.
"No one said we need to force that balance, but we need to create that balance early and sustain it, and that's what we'll work on," Luck said.