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.''