There has been no more disappointing area for the Colts offense over the past six years than its inability to rush the football. For some time the ground game was defended as efficient in short-yardage and as a “change of pace” from the Peyton Manning-led passing attack, dismissing its effectiveness as a true offensive weapon — because it wasn’t.
Suffer no delusions, the team is still a work in progress in this area — due in part to an offensive line that has yet to fully come together — but 2012 shows more promise in this area than there has been for some time.
In three of the past four games Indianapolis has played it has surpassed the century mark as a team. More importantly, it has done so with and without its starting running back healthy and with a comfortable rotation amongst a backfield with promising young talent.
Donald Brown has really showed progress in 2012, despite the setback from injury, and is finally being used in the role he is most suited for — outside the tackles on stretch plays, screens, and in space. Second-year back Delone Carter is beginning to show the kind of bowling ball short-yardage toughness he was drafted for in 2011 — at times breaking numerous tackles and dragging defenders to pick up key yards. Even rookie Vick Ballard has started to show signs of development in his rookie season, rushing for over 80 yards against the Cleveland Browns and catching a pass out of the backfield against the Titans for an impressive barrel-rolling touchdown, awarding the Colts an overtime win.
Of course, the X-Factor in this backfield is that each rusher is aided by the threat of Andrew Luck carrying the ball on his own and using play-action to roll out and earn easy first downs. Each week Luck sets the bar for the next opponent a little higher as he develops and shows even more comfort and poise in the pocket and on the move.
Has the running game been league leading good? Absolutely not. However, there is little doubt that without an effective ground game in 2012, the Colts do not approach their current 4-3 record.
It has been very hard for most Colts fans to approach this season as nothing more than a building year — and it is — but the development of this young team in a new era is happening faster than many would have ever predicted. The effectiveness of Indy’s rushing attack behind an offensive line that has not yet formed its identity and has been a revolving door since the season began bodes very well for the team’s future.
Imagine, Luck will only get better as an NFL passer. He will continue to settle down and develop relationships with his receivers. He will make fewer mistakes, rush fewer throws, and commit fewer unforced errors. If his development is supplemented by the continued growth of a young backfield, the Colts offense will truly be its own monster — maybe even sooner than anyone thought it could.