Frank Gore's role on Colts will be even more vital with Andrew Luck out

INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore, as he often does, sat slouched in the chair at his locker with one foot propped up as if he was just waiting to take the field for a game.

Gore has been as good as he was advertised when the Colts signed him in the offseason. He leads the team in yards (599), carries (148), touchdowns (4) and runs of at least 20 yards (4) this season. Gore has come close to breaking the 100-yard mark in several games this season, which hasn't been done on the Colts since 2012. He's rushed for at least 70 yards in a game five times.

Gore’s role -- and Ahmad Bradshaw's, too, for that matter -- will be even more vital with starting quarterback Andrew Luck out as long as five more weeks with a lacerated kidney and partially torn abdominal muscle.

“We’re here to help take some of the load off of the quarterback no matter who is back there taking the snaps,” Gore said.

The Colts are turning to 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck to start in Luck's absence. Hasselbeck started in Week 4 and 5 when Luck was out with a right shoulder injury. The Colts rushed the ball a combined 54 times for 170 yards in games against Jacksonville and Houston.

“The numbers speak for themselves, so I don’t care who you have under center,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “Both guys can throw it if you need to throw it, but scoring and scoring early helps. Running the football takes some heat off of any quarterback -- doesn’t matter who it is.”

The Colts, under new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, attempted a season-high 40 rushing attempts in their Week 9 victory over Denver. That was the first time all season that Indianapolis had more rushing attempts (40) than passing attempts (36) in a game.

Sunday, Colts will face an Atlanta defense that’s been stingy when it comes to giving up rushing yards. The Falcons are third in the NFL in that category, giving up only 88.9 yards a game on the ground this season. The offensive line has to do its part in blocking up front so that the running backs can find holes to run through.

“I challenge them to be one of the best offensive lines in the NFL,” Chudzinski said. “They need to feel that and believe that to achieve that. I’ve been just seeing how they’ve gelled and come together. The run game’s improved.”