Run game opens things up for Luck

SAN DIEGO -- Andrew Luck has a new weapon at his disposal that was unavailable to him during his rookie season -- a running game.

Heading into the "Monday Night Football" matchup against the San Diego Chargers, the Indianapolis Colts are averaging 142 rushing yards a contest on the ground, No. 4 in the NFL.

Last season, the Colts averaged just 104.4 rushing yards a game, No. 22 in the league. The Colts experienced a makeover on offense this season, with Luck’s offensive coordinator at Stanford, Pep Hamilton, taking over as the Indianapolis offensive coordinator for the departed Bruce Arians, who now serves as the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

Luck said this year’s offense under Hamilton is more of a run-based approach, with the fullback being more often.

In 2012, Indianapolis relied much more on Luck creating big plays through the passing game. And the results were a good, but not great rookie season for Luck. He threw for 4,374 yards and 23 touchdowns, but he also had 18 interceptions and a pedestrian 76.5 passer rating. Luck was sacked 41 times, and completed just 54 percent of his passes.

This season, Luck is completing 62.2 percent of his passes through five games, with seven touchdowns and just two interceptions. He’s been sacked 12 times, and has a 94.1 passer rating.

“For the quarterback, the more he’s handing it off, the less hits he’s taking, No. 1,” Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said. “No. 2, it opens up everything in the pass game for him, too. If you’re having success on the ground, people are going to have to commit more guys to the box to stop the run, and hopefully open up things for you in your pass game on the outside.”

Added Luck: “When the run game’s going, that’s great for the quarterback. It slows down the pass rush, and it helps the passing game get going as well.”

The Colts made a big trade in order to give their run game a boost, giving up a first-round pick in next year’s draft to Cleveland for running back Trent Richardson. It proved a wise move, with Ahmad Bradshaw recently being placed on the injured reserve with a season-ending neck injury.

Richardson has just 151 yards and two touchdowns through three games for the Colts. But more important, he’s added a physical toughness lacking in the Indianapolis running game before he arrived.

“It’s been a great addition,” Luck said. “He’s a phenomenal runner. He always falls forward. He’s a great teammate, so we’re thrilled and very happy that he’s here.”

The Colts also have Donald Brown, who serves a change-of-pace back to Richardson. And with the team’s success running the football, Luck has been more effective pushing the ball down the field in the play-action game.

San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano understands his defense will have its hands full trying to slow down the Colts’ running game.

“They’re doing such a great job with their running attack because it’s power football,” John Pagano said. “It’s downhill, and Trent Richardson coming in there and to be able to bring in Donald Brown, you can really see that they are very committed to the run and want to run the football.

“It’s an attack that you have to be physical at the line of scrimmage with, and you have to hold the point and win those one-on-one matchups. At the end of the day you have to tackle, and that is something, as a defensive unit, that we haven’t been doing well at. We have to go out there, tackle and then stop the run.”