INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts came into the 2013 season professing a power-running approach under new coordinator Pep Hamilton.
This came a year after Chuck Pagano said the Colts under his thumb would look more like Pittsburgh and Baltimore than they had in previous years when from 1998-2010 Indianapolis ran on less than 42 percent of its 13,137 scrimmage plays.
The Colts inched toward the identity for two games and after a mid-week trade for Trent Richardson, they exploded at San Francisco by rushing 39 times for 179 yards, while throwing but 27 times.
"What we're looking for is what we saw today," said Jim Irsay afterward. Chuck Pagano followed on Monday by saying, "We want to play a physical brand of football."
Indianapolis rushed 26 times for a 4.9 average against Oakland in the opener. The Colts then sported a 5.1 mark on 26 attempts against Miami before having a 4.6 mark last week at San Francisco.
The Colts have not always been a pass-happy offense, but the last time the club had three straight in-season games exceeding 25 rushes and a 4.5 average goes back, way back.
The Edgerrin James years (1999-2005)? The Marshall Faulk tenure (1994-98)? The Eric Dickerson days (1987-91)?
All three were wondrous performers, but the only time it ever was achieved came early in the club's Indianapolis era – September 16, 23 and 30 of the 1984 season. Think Curtis Dickey and Randy McMillan.
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS CONSECUTIVE GAMES (25 RUSHES; 4.5 AVERAGE)
9/16/84 ST. LOUIS
Dickey 23-121; McMillan 11-40; Pagel 2-21
Dickey 15-77; McMillan 13-67; Schlichter 1-7
McMillan 16-114; Dickey 14-72
Ballard 13-63; Luck 6-38; Bradshaw 7-26
Bradshaw 15-65; Luck 4-38; Brown 7-30
Bradshaw 19-95; Richardson 13-35; Brown 3-25; Luck 4-24
There were bursts of production close to these three-game levels during parts of the 1985, 1994, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2004 seasons under James and Hall-of-Famers Faulk and Dickerson, but the dedicated ground approach ebbed-and-flowed.
Pagano and Hamilton are wedded to the ground attack and have a big-picture idea of goals.
"Four yards, four yards or more is pretty much the benchmark," said Pagano. "You run the ball on first down, your goal is to gain four yards. I think we put it pretty lofty. We set a goal for ourselves at the end of every game, we want to be 5.0 per carry which should lead the world.
"Percentage-wise, yards-wise, per attempt and carries, but that's the way we challenge our guys and challenge ourselves. If you can get four yards, that's pretty good. That would be ideal."
Not every play will hit that goal, but repetition over 60 minutes can achieve or exceed the desired result. At San Francisco, the team averaged 5.2 per rush in the first quarter, followed by 3.8 and 5.1 marks in the middle two periods.
The wear and tear on the 49ers defense allowed the Colts to gain 73 rushing yards in the last quarter. Indianapolis controlled the ball for 10:51 and scored 14 points, with Ahmad Bradshaw having a 5.6 average on 11 carries.
"We try not to focus on anything other than making sure we eliminate the negative plays," said Hamilton. "Early in games when you run the ball inside, you may gain one yard on first down or two yards on second down. The next time you come back and run, you have the potential to pop it for eight yards.
"We feel when you run the football the culmination of the hits and pounding you impose on the defense takes its toll and tends to pay dividends late in the game."
One 14-year observer of the Colts sees the turning of the approach in Indianapolis.
"There's always been a great runner here, like Edgerrin James," said Matt Hasselbeck. "It still counts as running the ball when you spread people out. Like this last game, we had some great runs out of three-wide receiver set with a fullback, or a three-wide receiver set with a tight end lead blocking, just some good, hard three-, four-yard runs, then, 'BAM,' a 12-yard run."
Hasselbeck said Hamilton has backed up his verbal approach with something that counts more.
"He would talk about it, but every coach you've ever had talked about, 'Hey, we're going to run the ball,' but actions speak louder than words," said Hasselbeck. "I think we've sent a message, 'We want to be a power run team. We want to be a gap running team. We're coming at you with a fullback or a tight end. We're going to find creative ways to do it, and we're going to wear you down in the fourth quarter.' That's what happened last week."
PRACTICE REPORT – Did not participate: RB-Ahmad Bradshaw (neck), DT-Ricky Jean Francois (groin), S-LaRon Landry (ankle); Limited participation: S-Joe Lefeged (knee); Full Participation: LB-Pat Angerer (knee), S-Antoine Bethea (toe), C-Samson Satele (elbow).