Colts hope improving ground game is good enough

Joseph Addai believes the Colts’ rushing numbers are

deceptive.

Sure, the team ranks last in the NFL in yards rushing and

averages a below-average 3.8 yards per carry. And, yes, the critics

contend Indy doesn’t have a strong enough rushing game to make

another Super Bowl run.

The Colts don’t care.

To them, this has never been about numbers or grades, it’s all

about efficiency and effort.

“You would love 100 yards here, 100 yards there, don’t get me

wrong. I’m human, I want those.” Addai said after scoring twice in

Sunday’s 27-17 victory over Tennessee. “But I feel like if I can

go and get in bed with no worries, I’m good. If I felt like I did

everything I was supposed to do, I’m good.”

Clearly, this is one part of the Colts’ offense that needed

improvement.

Three-time MVP Peyton Manning has been playing perhaps the best

football of his career. Reggie Wayne has already topped 1,000 yards

receiving, tight end Dallas Clark leads all NFL tight ends in

receptions and yards receiving, while young receivers Pierre Garcon

and Austin Collie have been taking turns with their big games.

Indy’s offensive line has allowed a league-low 10 sacks.

So in a league where every flaw becomes a major pothole, the

Colts running game has been the focal point – and for good reason.

A year ago, the Colts’ inability to convert two third-and-shorts

late in their playoff game allowed San Diego to force overtime and

eventually win.

Indy’s hierarchy then spent the offseason seeking solutions.

Team president Bill Polian used his first-round draft pick on

Connecticut running back Donald Brown even though Addai had

1,000-yard seasons in 2006 and 2007, and coach Jim Caldwell

insisted the ground game had to get better throughout the

offseason.

In August, Caldwell reinforced his point by making a change.

He demoted the Colts’ one-time left tackle of the future, Tony

Ugoh, in favor of Charlie Johnson. Five weeks ago, Caldwell did it

again, benching 2008 second-round pick Mike Pollak in favor of

Arena Football2 veteran Kyle DeVan at right guard.

Now things are chugging along.

Addai’s three highest rushing totals this season have come in

the past three weeks. In the seven games since Indy’s bye, Addai

has run 99 times for 388 yards, an acceptable 3.9 yards per carry,

and he’s been much more successful in short-yardage situations.

That’s all the Colts need.

“We’ve been looking at red zone and when we have to run it

effectively and whether we can eat some clock,” Caldwell said

Monday. “We’ve been able to do that. He (Addai) doesn’t have the

gaudy numbers, but he’s been effective.”

In fact, Indy has already matched last season’s total of

touchdowns rushing (13), and Addai has already surpassed his 2008

numbers, 544 yards and five TDs. His 2009 totals: 662 yards, nine

TDs, and a per carry average that has steadily improved.

But the best indication of the changes is how Addai is

running.

In 2006, the Colts rode Addai’s physical style to a Super Bowl

title. The next year, Addai was selected to his first Pro Bowl.

Then, in 2008, Addai dealt with a series of nagging injuries and

the critics said he was dancing too much.

Now, with Addai relatively healthy and the offensive line in

sync, the hesitance is gone and Addai is back to his old habits. He

is overpowering defenders, like he did on the goal line Sunday, and

making defenders miss in the backfield, as he did on a third-and-1

that kept another Indy drive going.

“I think he’s playing fantastic,” center Jeff Saturday said.

“We’re not one of those teams that gives him 30 carries a game,

but when he gets his opportunities, he’s busting it. He’s run the

ball hard, and he’s keeping us in phase in the offense on first and

second down.”

And before long, the Colts’ ground game could be getting a

boost.

Brown has 30 carries in the last eight games, missing three

because of injuries. If he’s healthy for the postseason, Indy will

finally have its two-man tandem, and it looks like the Colts will

rest their starters once they wrap up the AFC’s top seed. A win

next weekend over Denver would do just that.

So if things go as planned, the rushing game could be full

strength in time to prove the doubters wrong again.

“The biggest thing is when they call your number, you have to

answer,” Addai said. “I don’t look at it like ‘OK, it’s third

down, Joe, let’s go get it.’ I’m trying to get it on every play. I

think if you keep working on the small things, stuff like that

happens.”