Colts run struggles could end win streak

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
Is it the backs? Is it the line? Is it the defense they are going against?

Ask the Indianapolis Colts why they've struggled to run the ball this season and you'll get a variety of answers, none of which point to a singular problem.

"It's been a little bit of everything," coach Tony Dungy said. "It's been offensive linemen in differently, different backs in, our backs being a little bit nicked up and not getting that rhythm with the linemen. It's been just assignments, penalties here or there, heard this wrong, didn't block this right, very much what I said about the run defense in '06. When it comes together and we do it right, I think we're very capable of having some big run days."

As they prepare for a trip to San Diego for a wild card playoff game Saturday night, the Colts rushing offense has been more of an obstacle than a help in getting there, producing just 73.6 yards a game and 3.4 yards a carry compared to 106.6 and 3.8 in 2007.

In five games they didn't get to 2 yards a carry, in seven they didn't total 75 yards.

Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes produced nearly identical numbers, and that level of production could make it difficult for the Colts to get past the Chargers or advance far in the playoffs.

"Our goal every game all season long has been to try to establish the run," Peyton Manning said. "You always kind of feel like, 'Today might be the day that things are going to pop.' I think if you look at us statistically, we've always tried to be balanced. We always feel the most comfortable when we're balanced. There's no surprise that we're going to try to be balanced from here on out.

"It's good to have Joe Addai back [from a shoulder injury]. Dominic, I tell you, what he's done this year has been great. Thank goodness we were able to get him back. Both of those guys are going to be key factors in the game. They've done a good job with the passing game, but there's no question that we'd like to be able to get some running game going. We could mix up our drop back and play action off of that. That's certainly the plan going in."

If the Colts don't run effectively early against San Diego, their play-action game will lose its bite. And without the run or the play-fake, more will fall on Manning. There is no quarterback in the playoffs better equipped to deal with such imbalance, but it's a lot to ask.

Still, while Indianapolis might crave balance, the Colts have proven they do not need it to be successful.

Ask Dungy if it matters whether the Colts run better in the playoffs and he does not turn to predictable coach-speak.

"I guess it probably doesn't matter because we've won nine in a row the way it is," he said. "But, especially if you get in bad weather situations, you're going to have to run more and we have to be able to run effectively when we need to. We'll work on that and continue to work on that. It hasn't been up to our standards, and we'll continue to work, but I think we'll have both of our backs healthy.

"If [right guard] Mike Pollak's OK, we'll have our starting line healthy, and that will certainly help us. The thing we have to do is be able to run when it counts. We've missed a bunch of third-and-ones in the last five or six games. We've given the ball back to people when one third-and-1 conversion would ice the game. You don't want to do that in the playoffs. You're playing good quarterbacks, and you don't want to put it in their hands... That's where we have to be a little bit better, but I think we will."

In their regular season win at Qualcomm Stadium on Nov. 23, the Colts ran 23 times for 91 yards. A week later, the Chargers allowed Atlanta to control the clock while running the ball 43 times.

But in a four-game winning streak to close the season and win the AFC West, San Diego held runners to 4.3 yards a carry.

With a good postseason showing, Addai can do a lot to redeem himself from a season where he saw his ground yards cut nearly in half from his 1,072 in 2007 to 544 in 2008.

He's not making pledges or promises, however.

"It's really just taking advantage of what we get, no matter what," he said. "We're still going to stick with the run, we're still going to mix it up with the pass, no matter what. That's the biggest thing, just trusting everybody around you and not losing faith.

"I think we've been pretty good handling those situations."