Colts Running Offense Far More Than Statistics in 2009
INDIANAPOLIS – Of the Colts' running game, Jim Caldwell was straightforward.
Caldwell said he wouldn't say the team always ran the ball as well as it wanted this past season during his first season as the Colts' head coach, or even that the Colts ran as well as they needed to sometimes.
The Colts could have been more consistent, Caldwell said. They could have been ranked higher in the league.
And they could have had more games such as those they had late in the season.
But while Caldwell said there is improvement to be made, he also said overall the Colts not only improved from the year before, there were times – some very, very imant times – this past season when the running offense was very, very effective.
"If you look at our numbers, our numbers (weren't) good," Caldwell said recently of the team's running game, the topic in this first of a 10-part Colts.com series taking a look at the Colts' 2009 AFC Championship season.
"We (were) either 31st or 32nd throughout the entire year. It's an area we know needs improving, we work on (it) constantly and (it is) an area of emphasis. I do think there are certain times in certain ballgames where we (were) effective.
"So it's not consistently ineffective, we just (weren't) consistently effective."
The Colts, after ranking 31st in the NFL with a 79.6-yard-per-game average in 2008, finished 32nd this past season at 80.9 yards a game. After averaging 3.4 yards per carry in 2008, they averaged 3.54 this season, but Caldwell and others around the team said the statistics belied the effectiveness of the area.
"We don't run the ball as well as we throw the ball, but we run the ball good enough that it makes defenses have to respect us," Colts tight end Dallas Clark said before this past Sunday's Super Bowl, during which the Colts had one of their best running games of the season with 19 attempts for 99 yards and a touchdown.
"You have to respect (running backs) Joe (Joseph) Addai and Donald Brown. Those guys have done a phenomenal job. They're not getting the carries that other (running) backs on some other teams are getting. The chances they get, they're getting a first down, they're running hard, they're hitting defenders and being physical backs and doing everything the team has called them to do."
Addai, who rushed for more than 1,000 yards each of his first two seasons, rushed for 554 yards in 2008, but improved this past season, particularly late in the year. He finished the season with 828 yards and 10 touchdowns on 219 carries.
That was an average of 3.8 yards a carry, an improvement of almost half a yard per carry from last season.
"The numbers are not where we want them, but when we do run the ball, we do have a good chance of making yardage or making something happen," Addai said. "That's kind of how I look at it."
Addai, like the Colts' running game, improved as the season went on, an improvement that increased in the post-season. Addai averaged more than 4.0 yards a carry in five of the Colts' last eight games, averaging 6.7 yards a carry in his final regular-season game against the New York Jets, 5.0 yards a carry against the Jets in the AFC Championship Game and 5.9 against the Saints in the Super Bowl.
"It's always good when you get the running game going so you don't always have to rely on the pass," Addai said. "Whenever (the) coaches call our number - when I say our, I mean the running back group – we do pretty well as far as answering it.
"It's really how you look at it. If you just watch the game, you say, 'that's a nice run, that's a nice run,' but you look on paper and you see something different. It always comes down to getting that 'W.''
The running offense also was helped at times by the addition of Brown, the team's first-round selection in last April's 2009 NFL Draft. Despite missing five games with injuries, he rushed for 281 yards and three touchdowns on 78 carries.
The Colts also got contributions from second-year running back Chad Simpson, who rushed for 102 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, as well as second-year running back Mike Hart, who returned from a season-ending knee injury to play a key role as a short-yardage back, rushing for 70 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.
The Colts' offensive line was candid publicly before the season about its goal of returning to the form it showed from 2002-07. During those seasons, they typically ranked in the Top 20 in rushing – never in the top five, but usually effective at critical times and consistent enough to make the Colts' play-action passing game a legitimate threat.
"We throw the ball quite a bit and we've got the best quarterback in the league, so that's what we're going to base our offense around," Colts right tackle Ryan Diem said, "but I think efficiency in our running game is very important. We know when it's third-and-two or third-and-one and we need it, we're going to try to do everything we can to make sure we move those chains. That's kind of our mindset – just not necessarily always take up big chunks in the passing game but just stay in rhythm, stay in phase, and if it comes down to third-and-short, just get that first. Move the chains and start over."
And Addai said in the Colts' running offense that could mean de-emphasizing statistics and focusing on not only versatility, but something far more important.
"If I have to catch the ball six, seven, eight, nine times or whatever, I'll take care of that situation," Addai said. "If Coach Caldwell wants me to run the ball, if coach calls me to be more of a blocker, it's more of just reacting on the go. It's really just getting ready to do whatever. To me, as long as we get the wins, that's the ultimate goal. Yeah, you want the ball more than you get it, but regardless, it always comes down to winning, and I'm happy with that. . . .
"You can't just be a one-type back. You have to be an all-around back to help (quarterback) Peyton (Manning) at quarterback. If you can't protect, you can't be a help. Peyton, he loves his receivers, so you have to go out and be able to catch to. For me, it's the little things outside of just being a running back."