AFC South: Trent Richardon
March, 25, 2014
By Mike Wells | ESPN.com
Elsa/Getty ImagesWith an improved running game, the Colts won't have to rely on Andrew Luck to save each game.ORLANDO, Fla. -- It was one of those moments that could easily send chills up your spine or cause you to break out in goose bumps as the words came out of Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano's mouth early Tuesday morning, as the sun was still making its way up in Central Florida.
The Colts have a quarterback -- a pretty a darn good one, I must say -- who has consistently proven in just two short seasons that he has everything it takes to lead a team that has dealt with on- and off-the-field adversity.
Mobility? A hidden talent of his.
Mental toughness? There's no question he has that.
The results prove it. Twenty-two regular-season victories. An AFC South division title. A playoff victory.
"From a mindset standpoint, it all starts with running the ball and stopping the run," the coach said in between sips of his coffee. "We do have a great quarterback, with a great arm and he has weapons to throw to. Certainly we understand that and we know that."
Pagano also added that they'll continue to emphasize running the ball, "until they run me out of there."
The Colts will run the ball, especially with three running backs -- Trent Richardson, Vick Ballard and Ahmad Bradshaw -- who have all been starters at some point in their careers. But don't be mistaken about what Pagano said, Luck will still drop back in the pocket and fling the ball downfield more than he hands it off. That's their best chance to win.
There are legitimate question marks about the Colts' top three running backs next season.
Ballard is coming off a torn ACL. Bradshaw needs to prove he can stay healthy. Richardson, well, simply put, he's still a work in progress after being traded to Indianapolis early last season.
The Colts tried to run the ball in 2013. But the thought of them having anything close to a ground game came to a halt in Week 3 when Bradshaw's season ended because of a neck injury. Richardson and Donald Brown simply didn't get the job done -- partially because of offensive line problems and partially because of a lack of production from the two running backs.
That left Luck using his arm to bail the Colts out of deficits. They threw the ball 582 times compared to 409 rush attempts last season.
The NFL is a copycat league. What the Colts and 27 other teams saw was the final four teams playing -- New England, Denver, Seattle and San Francisco -- all mixing in the run to go with their talented quarterbacks.
The Colts experienced it firsthand, as the Patriots ran for 234 yards against them in their AFC divisional playoff matchup -- a 43-22 loss.
A successful run game is what Indianapolis wants. Not Luck strapping on his cape to lead the Colts back from constant double-digit holes.
Also, Luck could have his best arsenal of weapons to throw to in his young career with the addition of receiver Hakeem Nicks to go with fellow receiver T.Y. Hilton, tight end Coby Fleener and the hopeful healthy return of receiver Reggie Wayne and tight end Dwayne Allen. Throw in a consistent running game -- cross your fingers the offensive line can block better -- and it's the type of offense that will allow the Colts to be successful.
"We're not going to try to do things to make us lose," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. "...All that matters at the end of the day is that you make the playoffs and if you can win in the playoffs. We don't want to make it all on Andrew. We want to give him help with our stable of running backs and [with] our offensive line creating those lanes to open up the play-action pass, so it takes the pressure off of him."