NFL Nation: Ryan Mahaffey

Looking at the Colts use of fullbacks

December, 28, 2011
12/28/11
6:41
PM ET
The moment they knew they’d be without Peyton Manning for all or most of the season, the Indianapolis Colts should have shifted gears on offense.

No, they were not built to be a power running attack. But it’s easier to be run-heavy than pass-heavy when you’re lacking offensive talent. And with two bad quarterbacks in Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky, it was crazy not to attempt a more dramatic shift than the one the Colts have made.

The Colts' lack of any big alteration is the biggest negative attached to Jim Caldwell for me as the team prepares to finish a 2-14 or 3-13 season.

Indianapolis has run the ball more often -- on 42.2 percent of its snaps vs. 36.7 in 2010 with Manning playing. The Colts, who have not been a fullback team throughout most of the Manning era, have used a fullback on 11.2 percent of their offensive snaps.

“We actually made an adjustment early on (regarding the fullback spot) and a matter of fact one of the guys got hurt after about four or five plays during the course of one game and so we had to adjust a little bit,” Caldwell told Jacksonville media on a conference call Wednesday. “But it was something we tried to focus in on once we realized exactly what was going to happen in terms of our overall offense, that we had to make an adjustment to run the ball a little bit more and so we went out to find a few guys to help us at that position.”

That injury was to Chris Gronkowski. He was claimed off waivers from Dallas on Sept. 4, and then used sparingly in seven games before landing on IR after getting hurt against New Orleans on Oct. 23. He landed on IR and the Colts added fullback Ryan Mahaffey on Nov. 16 and fullback Jerome Felton (who started at New England) on Nov. 28.

Over the past five weeks, according to John McTigue of ESPN Stats & Info, Mahaffey or Felton has been on the field for the Colts on 25.1 percent of their snaps.

“We have made some adjustments in that area,” Caldwell said. “We typically didn’t carry a fullback very often and now we obviously have two on our roster and they’ve been able to help us. We’ve been using a little bit more two-back stuff of late, kind of mixing it in with some of the one-back stuff that we do. Both guys have done a nice job for us so they’ve helped us I think in the running game and that’s one of the areas I think we’ve been fairly consistent, but we’re trying to get better all the time.”

Said running back Joseph Addai: "You get different looks. Are you asking me do I like it? Yeah, I like it. It's really my first time playing with a fullback in my career. At LSU we kind of did what we did here, a tight end played fullback or whatever. I think it will be a good look for us."

But a fullback alone hasn’t been sufficient to make a difference in the run game. Indianapolis’ average run this season has been 4.6 yards without a fullback and 3.7 yards with one.

Finding the right recipe to run most effectively -- with a fullback, with an H-back or with the field spread with three wides -- may sound easier than it is. But it should have been priority one for the Colts as soon as Manning wasn’t at quarterback.

To be a better football team than they've been, they needed to be better than the league’s 24th-ranked run offense.

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