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Colts offensive line 'all in' on transformation into a run-based team

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Vinatieri: Retirement didn't cross my mind (0:43)

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INDIANAPOLIS -- Weird.

That’s the best way Indianapolis Colts tight end Jack Doyle could describe the transformation his team has undergone in just a few weeks.

For more than 20 years, since they selected Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck as No. 1 overall picks, the Colts’ success has been predicated on the right arms of their quarterbacks.

Now?

The Colts -- with new starter Jacoby Brissett taking the snaps -- have become a run-oriented team through the first two weeks of the season.

They’ve rushed for 370 yards while throwing for just 294 yards. And if not for some missed Adam Vinatieri kicks in Week 1, they would be 2-0.

“I’ll be honest, it is kind of weird,” Doyle said. “But it’s fun. That’s where I came from, with the blue-collar style.”

The 370 yards on the ground is second in the NFL, behind only Baltimore. The 294 passing yards is dead last in the league.

This is not to say the days of attempting 40 passes and throwing for more than 300 yards in a game are thing of the past, because they'll need to be able to throw the ball and get some chunk plays through the air at some point. But for the present, the Colts are sticking to running the ball until opponents prove they can stop them.

“Being able to run the ball helps in all phases,” center Ryan Kelly said. “We need to pass, but for the most part in your shorter situations, you’re not in third-and-long. You’re on the ball, putting the defense on their heels. When we’re passing the ball, it makes it a hell a lot easier when you’re able to run it.

“Again, the defense can do a bunch of different things to stop you on the run game, but as long as your details and fundamentals are sound, it’s tough to figure out how to get after you.”

Committing to the running game didn’t just start after Luck retired late last month. Colts coach Frank Reich said they believed they could be a top-five rushing team in the spring, when the impression was Luck would be their starting quarterback this season. Guard Quenton Nelson spent time in the offseason wearing a hat that said "Run the Damn Ball."

That's exactly what they're doing.

It helps to be able to run the ball when you have an offensive line that’s capable of opening up holes for the backs -- and even Brissett -- to go with tight ends like Doyle, Eric Ebron and Mo Alie-Cox, who enjoy being part of the running game.

The Colts have their starting offensive line back from last season. The group has no problem pulling on a play to the outside or giving just enough room for running back Marlon Mack to find a crease off tackle.

“They’re really smart. They’re really physical. They all love football,” Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “I don’t think there’s one of those guys on the offensive line that doesn’t love football. That’s a good combination right there to have five guys, and our backups that all have that trait of loving football. This is a tough group of guys. I look forward when they come off the field, I’m slapping five with Ryan Kelly and blood gets all over me and I’m slapping five with [Nelson]. I’m a mess after it. I look forward to it.”

The Colts trailed in the second half of each of their first two games. But staying committed to the running game and not feeling the pressure to throw their way back into the contest is why they got back into it in Week 1 and put them in position to win it in Week 2.

Mack rushed for 124 of his 174 yards in the third quarter against the Chargers in Week 1, including a 63-yard touchdown run. And then using a three tight-end set, running back Jordan Wilkins had what Brissett described as the “biggest play of the game” when he followed blocks by Doyle, fellow tight end Ebron and the right side of the offensive line in Mark Glowinski and Braden Smith to break free for a 55-yard run to set the Colts up for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

“We have five tough f---ing guys up front,” left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “Five very strong, very good football players on the O-line and it’s exciting when you can do that. You’re chipping, chipping, chipping and I don’t think we even remember the last play. We just focus on our job and the next play. It’s the mentality of the offensive line.”

That type of toughness to consistently push defensive players off the line of scrimmage eventually takes a toll on the opponent. Nelson pointed out that he noticed some of the Chargers and Titans defensive players putting their hands on their hips from being tired during the second half of the first two games.

“We’re all tired, too, on offense,” Nelson said. “That becomes a point of which team’s will is stronger. We know we have five physical guys up front and we have some damn good blocking tight ends, too. We just try to do our jobs to the best of our abilities and we know we can run the football if we do that. We’re all in on running ball and it’s paid off for us so far.”