Indianapolis Colts

Colts win big despite a struggling rushing attack

September 25, 2016: Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore (23) in action during the NFL game between the San Diego Chargers and Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)
(Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire)

A marvelous come-from-behind victory orchestrated by quarterback Andrew Luck over the San Diego Chargers helped the Indianapolis Colts avoid a dreaded 0-3 start to their regular season. The win breathed new life into a clearly deflated team reeling with so many injuries.

There was a genuine look of relief on the face of head coach Chuck Pagano as he stepped to the post-game microphone to address the media on Sunday.

“Nothing like winning, just what the doctor ordered,” said Pagano.

The Colts defense made key plays in the fourth quarter to get the offense the ball and ice the game, and the offense exploded down the stretch with key plays from Luck and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. As for the running game, it was more of the same with Frank Gore leading the way and not much help behind him.

Reserve backs Robert Turbin and Josh Ferguson were buried on the stat sheet with a combined five rush attempts for 11 yards, although Turbin did manage to punch the ball into the end zone on a 1-yard goal line run in the third quarter. Ferguson’s best contributions came through the air, as he hauled in three passes for 29 yards.

It is clearly an offense wholly dependent on the “sore” throwing arm of Luck and the 33-year-old legs of Gore. Any football aficionado would agree that both go hand-in-hand. A good rushing attack opens up the passing attack. That was definitely the idea when the Colts signed Gore to a three-year, $12 million deal last year. Yet no Colts rusher has eclipsed 100 yards on the ground in 52 consecutive games.

The lack of a ground attack continues to put a significant amount of pressure on Luck to make plays with his arm. Let’s not forget that Luck is already coming off an injury-riddled season from playing behind a makeshift offensive line. Not to mention, he recently lost Donte Moncrief, his No. 2 option at receiver, to an injury a week ago in a loss to the Denver Broncos.

Gore has done his best to alleviate some of the pressure without any quality depth behind him. Turbin has already reached journeyman status being on his fourth team in six NFL seasons, and Ferguson, an undrafted rookie out of Illinois, has yet to live up to the Darren Sproles comparisons that spread throughout training camp.

Perhaps the team’s utilization of multiple tight end sets will spark the running game. With Moncrief sidelined for several weeks, offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski has minimized the traditional three-receiver sets and turned to tight ends Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle to help carry the load. The extra body up front should benefit the run game as well as help with the protection of Luck.

Gore benefitted from the double tight end set by totaling 82 rushing yards and a touchdown against the Chargers. He still didn’t eclipse the 100-yard mark, but it was a serviceable performance for a running back well past his prime.

Fortunately for the Colts, Gore has been one of the more durable backs in the last decade. But given his age, there has to be some concern with him getting too many carries. The tread has thinned significantly on those tires after more than a decade of mileage in the NFL. If Gore goes down, the team will be down to Turbin and Ferguson to carry the load.

That thought alone is scary enough to leave the cork in the champagne bottle even after an impressive win on Sunday.

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