The Second in an Off-Season Position-by-Position Series on the Colts
INDIANAPOLIS – The combination was as memorable as the names were familiar.
And while there were few indications early in 2010 it would be the case, the combination by season's end was very much a major storyline in the Colts' season.
Dominic Rhodes and Joseph Addai. Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes.
Late in the season, that duo became the core of the Colts' running attack, and while there were memories and tradition in the names, what mattered more in 2010 was that the pair of veterans helped the running game emerge as an area of strength late in the season.
"Dominic is going to be Dominic," Addai said late in the 2010 season, a season that resulted in a seventh AFC South title in eight seasons.
"He just goes out there and plays and has fun."
That he did so late in the season wasn't expected by many, but it helped the Colts cap a remarkable finish to a memorable season.
Rhodes, who began 2010 out of the NFL after playing in the UFL earlier in the year, re-joined the Colts with a month remaining in the season after a number of injuries hurt the team's running back position.
He made an immediate impact.
Rhodes, who spent 2001-06 and 2008 with the Colts, spent the last four games of the regular season with his former team, playing in three and rushing for 172 yards on 37 carries.
Rhodes' return came late in a season in which the Colts endured a long run of injuries at the position, most notably a neck injury that cost Addai – a Pro Bowl selection in 2007 and a fixture in the Colts' running and passing offense – half the season.
Addai, after opening the year as the starter for a fourth consecutive season, started the first six games, then after aggravating the injury in an October victory over Washington, missed the next eight games. He returned for the Colts' Game 15 victory over Oakland, then started a season-ending victory over Tennessee.
Addai, who rushed for 4.0 yards or more per carry in four of eight games, finished the season with 495 yards and four touchdowns on 116 carries. He rushed for 92 yards on 20 carries in a victory over the New York Giants and 128 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries in a victory at the Redskins.
Donald Brown, a first-round selection in the 2009 NFL Draft, started eight games in the final two months of the season, and turned in one of the best performances of his career in a crucial late-season game against Jacksonville. With the Colts facing elimination with a loss, Brown rushed for 129 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries in a 34-24 Colts victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Brown finished the season with 497 yards and two touchdowns on 129 carries in 13 games.
The Colts got solid production at the running back position outside the trio of Rhodes, Addai and Brown, too.
Mike Hart, a third-year veteran, rushed for 185 yards and a touchdown on 43 carries, and in a mid-season victory over Houston, he rushed 84 yards on 12 carries. His 11-yard burst late in the Kansas City outing was the game's only touchdown in a 19-9 Colts win.
Javarris James, who signed as a free agent shortly after the 2010 NFL Draft, spent time on the practice squads of the New England Patriots and Washington before re-signing with the Colts in October. He rushed for 112 yards and six touchdowns on 46 carries in 10 games.
As a group, the running backs contributed to a ground attack that improved dramatically late in the season. After ranking 31st and 32nd in the NFL in 2008 and 2009, respectively, the Colts again ranked last in the NFL in rushing much of the 2010 season.
Then came the final month.
After more than 100 yards just three times in the first 12 games, the Colts opened December by turning in a solid rushing performance in a key victory at Tennessee. They rushed for 87 yards, and the running game helped the Colts gain control of momentum in a 30-28 victory.
The Colts in the next two games rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown against Jacksonville and added a season-high 191 yards in Game 15 against Oakland.
They then closed the season with a 101-yard rushing performance in a home victory over Tennessee.
"The last few weeks have been really good," Colts center Jeff Saturday said late in the season. "The coaching staff has committed to it and our running backs are running hard. The line's blocking well. You talk about the run game: the more you do it, the better you're going to be at it."
The victories over Jacksonville and Oakland marked the first time since 2006 the Colts rushed for more than 150 yards in back-to-back games, and throughout the season, the effectiveness of the running game proved critical. In six losses in 2010 season, the Colts rushed for less than 50 yards a game.
In 10 victories, they averaged just less than 120 yards rushing, an average that improved late in the season when a healthy group of running backs turned the run offense into a strength at the most critical time of the season.
"I think it's good to have depth at the running back position," Addai said shortly after the season. "Early on you were saying, 'Where are we going to find a back?' Now, everybody is kind of healthy. I think it's a good thing that you could put anybody in and be comfortable."