INDIANAPOLIS -- The numbers do not jump off the stat steet, but they were significant for the Indianapolis Colts as they move forward.
Though the Colts lost a disappointing 27-19 decision to the Cleveland Browns in the home opener Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, they showed the kind of progress in the running game that bodes well for the team as the season continues.
The Colts mustered 109 rushing yards on 26 carries, a solid 4.2 per-carry average, and showed the ability to move the ball both between and beyond the tackles.
"I feel better about what we did (on the ground)," said Head Coach Jim Caldwell. "Joseph (Addai) had some pretty good runs. The offensive line created some creases, and Delone Carter had some good runs, as well. I think that's a plus.
"That's what we're going to have to be able to do. If we can't run the ball, we're going to be certainly fighting an uphill battle consistently. That was something we stressed so we did show a little bit of progress in that area, but certainly not nearly enough."
Showing the burst and elusiveness that marked his most productive seasons, Addai carried 14 times for 64 yards and added four pass receptions for 37 yards, giving him 101 total yards for the afternoon.
Carter, the fourth-round pick from Syracuse, continued his growth, carrying 11 times for 46 yards.
"We did (run the ball better) but the 'W' was the most important thing," said Carter. "We ran well. We're just trying to get it all tuned up so we can end up with a win on the board.
"We've got to do whatever we can to open up room for the pass and make our quarterback more comfortable and just to get the team rolling."
In the absence of Peyton Manning and the development of Kerry Collins, the running game carries an enhanced significance because of the need for offensive balance. Three yards and a cloud of dust certainly will not become the Colts' offensive mantra, but it is clear the team has a need to be able to run the ball effectively.
"I think anyone watching the game could tell we were way better this week from where we were last week," said left tackle Anthony Castonzo, a first-round pick from Boston College. "When you lose you've got to take every positive out of it that you can because there's no sense in harping on the negatives. We were a lot better this week, and we've just got to keep on that up track and we'll start winning games.
"I feel we did pretty well running the ball today. It's something that, when you lose, you could always do something better. I guess that's basically where we're at right now: we've just got to do something better to win."
In a 34-7 loss to Houston in the season opener, the Colts ran just 16 times for 64 yards as the team fell into a big first-half hole. This time, they came out running early, racking up 53 yards in the first three possessions as the Colts put together drives of 67 and 78 yards that resulted in field goals and a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Carter had an 18-yard run to start the second scoring drive and wound up carrying six times for 31 yards -- but was stopped on third-and-one at the Cleveland 9-yard line, leaving the Colts with a 27-yard field goal by Adam Vinatieri.
"In the first half we were a bit more effective offensively in terms of moving the ball," said Caldwell. "We just couldn't get the third-and-one that was key for us and obviously couldn't get the ball in the end zone consistently in the first half."
Trailing 14-9 at halftime, the Colts came out running in the third quarter, going to the ground four straight plays that gained 39 yards. Addai had the first three, including a 15-yard gain, and Carter had a 12-yarder that set up first-and-10 at the Cleveland 13-yard line. But when Carter was stopped for a five-yard loss on the next play, the drive stalled and Vinatieri kicked another field goal, this time a 36-yarder.
Though room for improvement is obvious, so was the growth in the ground game.
"It's the way we go to work every week," said Carter. "We plan to get better. We sit in there and study for extra amounts of time, get to know the defense we're facing, get to know our o-linemen and try to get a solid feeling for each other.
"We're going to do whatever it takes to win."