PFF Ranks Indianapolis Colts Running Back Unit Second in the NFL

What makes the Colts rushing attack one of the best in the league?

By: Trenton Roberts (Twitter: @TRobertsNFL)

On June 2nd, Pro Football Focus released their ranking of the top rushing attacks across the league. Atop the list sit the Cleveland Browns, and undebatable selection for the top slot. The Browns have arguably two top-10 rushers in the league in Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, and their rushing attack is unmatched by any other running back room in the league.

Second on that list, we find the Indianapolis Colts.

This was where many people seemed to disagree, as numerous complaints were made across social media that the Colts being slotted second was “a joke”. Many people wanted the Saints and/or Vikings above Indy, but PFF did get this one right, despite the criticism. Here’s why.

In 2021, behind one of the best offensive lines in the league, the Colts run game blew up. With rookie Jonathan Taylor leading the way to the tune of 1,169 rushing yards (third in the league) with 12 touchdowns, and pass-catcher extraordinaire Nyheim Hines pitching in 862 total yards and seven scores, the team’s once laughable running back stable dominated.

Prior to the season, however, the team was looking at former starter Marlon Mack to head the backfield for the team. When he went down in the first game of the season, Taylor was thrust into action as the lead back, and it showed in how overwhelmed he seemed through his first few starts.

Now, the team’s 1,000-yard rusher from 2019 is set to be the teams RB3 in 2021, which is something not many teams can say. To have a 1,000-yard guy as someone who might not even see major playing time is amazing, and allows the team to worry less about injuries, as unlike other squads, the team can cover itself almost to perfection.

While many teams high on the list, including New Orleans and Minnesota, have great 1-2 punches, the Colts are the only team in the league with three guys who could arguably be an RB1. No other team can match that level of skill and talent three-deep.

With the trio set to go strong into 2021, expect the team to use their rushing attack to great effect, pairing with quarterback Carson Wentz in an attempt to push the offense up to elite status. As it stands, the running back stable is well set to help carry the team to the playoffs and potentially help the team make a deep run.

3 underrated offseason moves by the Colts

By: Trenton Roberts (Twitter: @TRobertsNFL)

The Indianapolis Colts went into the 2021 offseason as a team on the verge of contention. All of the early talk was on the team’s trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to acquire quarterback Carson Wentz to replace the retired Phillip Rivers in leading the offense. A bit further down the road, the team again made a splash by drafting Michigan defensive end Kwity Paye with the 21st pick in the 2021 NFL draft, which I consider a steal as he should have gone in the first half of the opening round. 

However, while the team didn’t garner many other headlines aside from those two moments, they look to have improved quite a bit during this period, with many under-the-radar type moves pushing the Colts right to where they want to be. Let’s break down a few!

1) Signing veteran guard Chris Reed from the Carolina Panthers

When you think of overlooked Colts moves, your first thought should be Chris Reed.

After missing the first two weeks on the Covid-19 list in 2020, Reed played every single offensive snap from week three on for the Panthers. He was a big help in taking one of the league’s worst pass-protecting offensive lines in 2019 and pushing them towards the league average in that regard. According to PFF, in those 14 games, Reed allowed just one sack and was penalized just three times while holding down the left guard position.

After signing a one-year, $1.1 million dollar deal in April with the Colts, Reed comes to the team as the primary backup on the interior of the offensive line. With the teams 2020 fifth round pick Danny Pinter likely to take over the right guard position in 2022 should the team move on from Mark Glowinski, Reed is a perfect mentor for the time being, and should perform very well when put on the spot in times of need.

2) Re-signing running back Marlon Mack

Alright, this one might be more personal preference, but hear me out!

After drafting Jonathan Taylor with the 41st pick of the 2020 NFL draft, I was almost ready to see Mack out the door to open up room for Taylor to be a workhorse. When Mack went down in week one, I wasn’t as excited anymore. Why?

Because GM Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich sold me on the “dynamic duo” potential.

During the 2020 offseason, now Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni spoke to the media about how the team viewed Taylor and Mack as a “1-1 punch”. Many teams around the league have a good 1-2 punch, but the Colts saw what they had differently. They saw two dynamic backs as co-stars for the Colts backfield, with Taylor wearing down teams by pounding the rock and Mack wearing them out with his cuts and speed.

After Mack was lost for the season, Nyheim Hines stepped up as the primary backup to Jonathan Taylor. After totalling 862 yards and seven touchdowns on 152 touches (89 rushes, 63 catches), Hines returns as a dynamic chess piece for the offense.

Now, in 2021, we will finally get to witness the “1-1 punch” that had fans so excited, and we now know what we have in Nyheim Hines as an amazing third option. By the end of the season, don’t be surprised if the Colts are talked about as having the best running back stable in the league!

3) Letting defensive end Justin Houston walk

In his two seasons in Indy, Justin Houston quickly became a fan favorite for his pass-rushing qualities and leadership of the young defense. It came as a surprise to some, then, when the team didn’t re-sign the end to another short contract to return that player to Indy. (With Houston still available at the time of writing this, he might still return, though it’s unlikely).

However, it was time to move on. At 32 years old, the future Canton-hopeful Houston doesn’t have a lot left in the tank to offer. Despite getting 19.0 sacks in his two seasons with Indy, it was clear he was regressing, as he only tallied his 8.0 sacks on 12 QB Hits in 2020. By all means, that isn’t horrible, but it goes to show how he was becoming more of a clean-up pass rusher than the dominant force he once was.

With the team drafting the aforementioned Paye and Vanderbilt’s Dayo Odeyingbo to man the end spots for the future in Indy, and with All-Pro defensive tackle Deforest Buckner breaking out with 26 QB hits in 2020, Houston was no longer a necessity up front for the team. While the fans will look back thankfully on his time in Indy, it was time for the two sides to move on, as Indy builds for its future and Houston looks for a ring for his mantle.

Closing:

Despite a quiet offseason in Indy (as has become commonplace under Ballard), the Colts made many underrated moves to improve the roster. From depth on the offensive line, to attempt number two of having a dynamic rushing attack, and finally to letting an aging vet chase a championship, the team made moves for the future in 2021.

While we still have a few months before we can see how those moves paid off, the team looks better on paper now, and fans should be excited for what is to come in Indy!

Why the Indianapolis Colts are AFC South favorites

Indianapolis Colts are AFC South favorites

By: Trenton Roberts (Twitter: @TRobertsNFL)

The Indianapolis Colts went into the 2021 offseason as a team in flux. After losing their starting quarterback and left tackle to retirement following the season, the team needed to fill some holes, and fast. Fast forward a few months, and the team is situated well to win the division, and should the cards fall right, they’re a young team with championship potential.

So, what happened? What makes the Colts the early favorites to hoist the AFC South Championship banner this season? Let’s dive into three reasons why Indy is poised to potentially make waves in 2021.

Which Wentz Will Arrive in Indy?

After an early offseason trade with the Philadelphia Eagles which netted Indianapolis former second overall pick Carson Wentz in exchange for a third and a future second/first, Indy solved the problem of who would be under center for the team for 2021.

The question that remains, however, is if the Colts will get pre-2020 Wentz, or the Wentz that played last season as arguably the worst quarterback in the league.

Prior to his fall in 2020, Wentz was a rising quarterback, having played at an MVP level during the Eagles 2017 Super Bowl season and overcoming injuries and poor offensive help to perform well in 2018 and 2019. The wheels suddenly fell off in 2020, however, as Wentz struggled horribly, throwing 15 interceptions in just 12 games and getting benched for 2020 second rounder Jalen Hurts halfway through their Week 13 matchup with Green Bay.

If the Colts can get an earlier version of Carson Wentz, they have the offensive line and weapons to field a top 5 offense. If he struggles again, the team could fall apart entirely.

Defensive Dominance

The 2020 Colts defense was a pleasant surprise, going from a subpar/bad unit to one of the league’s best. With the acquisition of DeForest Buckner playing a pivotal role in the improvements of the front 7, the team finally was able to field its first top-10 defense since 2007.

In the 2021 draft, Ballard improved the unit further, adding Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo in the first and second rounds, respectively. While Dayo might not see the field until the latter half of the season, Paye should come in as an impact player right away, pairing with Buckner to overcome the loss of Justin Houston in the offseason.

While the defense did perform extremely well in 2020, there is even more room for improvements in 2021. If the newcomers can make an impact early, the defense could be championship-caliber.

A New Left Tackle

After the draft had come and gone, Colts fans were upset that the team had failed to fill the massive hole left on the left side of the line by Anthony Castonzo. Free agents Sam Tevi and Julien Davenport were nothing more than backup-level players, and the team failed to draft an offensive lineman until the final round of the draft.

On Monday, May 10th, the Colts finally filled the position.

Long-time Chiefs left tackle Eric Fisher, a former first-overall pick, hit free agency with one big issue holding him back: an Achilles injury suffered during the Chiefs victory over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship game.

With most projections expecting the tackle to be out for the start to the season, fans of the Colts shouldn’t immediately expect the left tackle position to be set. Instead, it will likely be one of Tevi or Davenport holding the position down for a few weeks until Fisher is ready to go.

Once he does check out as healthy, though, the team shouldn’t have any issues from a left side of the line comprised of Fisher, All-Pro Quenton Nelson, and Pro-Bowler Ryan Kelly.

Closing Thoughts

With so many questions surrounding the AFC South in 2021, the Colts seem like the team best situated to take advantage of the issues surrounding their divisional rivals. The Jaguars seem to be a year away from competing, with first-overall pick Trevor Lawrence and rookie head coach Urban Meyers likely to need time to acclimate. The Texans seem to be having issue after issue, headlined by the allegations surrounding their franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Titans, likely to be the one team with a chance to challenge the Colts, got worse in the offseason, losing many key defenders.

With the door wide open in the AFC South, the Colts are the best bet right now to lead the way in 2021.

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