This Sunday Colts fans got their long-awaited look at Vick Ballard who started in place of the injured Donald Brown. Fans have routinely panned Donald Brown and Joe Addai before him for their lack of productivity. Ballard’s approach is very powerful in contrast to the slashing style favored by both Brown and Addai. Naturally fans assumed this would lead to a better run game between the tackles.
It didn’t: Ballard carried the ball eight times for 25 yards. He averaged a measley 3.1 yards per carry while busting a long run of five yards, both well below Brown’s year so far.
So what gives? Is Brown better than Ballard? Is the Colts offensive line that bad? Are the Jets the second coming of the 2000 Ravens?
The answers were found in the game film of course.
First, Ballard had a decent day despite what the stats say. It’s debatable if that means he’s better or worse than Donald Brown but one thing is evident: the coaching staff has given up on the right side of the offensive line. Against the Jets the Colts ran Ballard exclusively behind the left side or between the tackles. Not once did Ballard attempt to run to the right. While there were no big gains there were also no losses. Ballard finished the day making positive yards on each of his eight carries. In fact the only negative rushing attempt from the running backs came on a Mewelde Moore loss of three yards on the left side of the line. Likewise the only attempt to the right side came on a Moore rush as well. In total the Colts ran 14 of 15 rushing attempts with running backs to the left or up the gut. In that light it’s clear the coaching staff simply learned their lesson and have given up trying to run behind the porous right side of the line. This certainly helped Ballard as it would any of the running backs.
Second, the tape and play selection clearly illustrates the offensive line is really bad. The Jets were in the bottom five in run defense before the game and the Colts managed just 42 yards. In addition to poor run blocking they gave up four sacks. The Colts started calling more low-risk plays and as a result became quite predictable. The Jets capitalized on this and simply devoured running backs in obvious running situations.
Are the Jets better than we thought against the run? Once again you don’t have to watch Jeff Linkebach’s upright blocking style to know he’s going to get flatfooted or pancaked. There aren’t many stats we need to know that the Jets, one of the worst teams against the run, were still simply too much for the Colts.
Will fans give Ballard, or any Colts running back for that matter, the fair shake and judge them based on more than the box score? Time will tell but Sunday’s performance was far from a referendum on Ballard but rather a harsh indictment of an offensive line bound to disappoint fans throughout the year.