The recent news of Vick Ballard’s season ending knee injury puts a lot of pressure on a running game that doesn’t have too many healthy game breakers available right now. Ahmad Bradshaw is still not quite at 100 percent with his foot, Donald Brown has not shown the ability to be a work horse back in his career and the possible free agent options are free agents for a reason. If the Colts’ offense is going to improve not only on last season but on Week 1’s unimpressive performance, someone outside of Andrew Luck and Reggie Wayne will have to step up and show why they are getting paid to play the game.
When it comes to the running game, the first player, or unit, that needs to step up is the offensive line. It was apparent that while the free agent acquisitions made have led to some improvement, there is still room to grow. Last week’s performance against the Raiders’ revamped defense was not one to write home about. Ballard was the leading rusher, with 63 yards on 13 carries but the only other player that saw carries was Bradshaw with 7. Luck had a decent game running the ball with 38 yards and a touchdown but he was scrambling away from free rushers, not in designed runs. His rushing touchdown came on a pass play in which the Raiders’ coverage was in man, leaving a wide open gap for him to run through. Even with the no-name Raiders pass rush, no offense meant, the line still gave up 4 sacks. Ballard’s injury means the offensive line will see even more pressure on their shoulders with a still relatively shaky Bradshaw and unproven backs behind him. Luck could see rushing attempts too. While this is completely conjecture and there is really no reporting behind this, Luck is athletic enough to have designed runs called for him and adding the read option would be an interesting wrinkle for the running game. I am well aware of the extra, unnecessary hits this could open him up to, but if they can find a way to sprinkle these plays instead of relying on them, they would give the defenses a new dimension to work on with the Indianapolis offense. Donald Brown will have to step his game as well. The former first round pick just has not been the player he was expected to, even with a few bright spots. If the unit is going to help balance the offensive as well as they will need to, Brown will most likely be counted on to take on a larger workload.
The passing game will become an even larger part of the Indianapolis offense. With Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and the tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen already having a good rapport it would only be natural for Luck to fall back and them and fling the ball around. Darius Hayward-Bey is an option that was not used too much last week against his former team, with only three catches for 33 yards, but he has big play ability in him. Unless the running game finds steady footing under Bradshaw, Brown or whoever they have alongside Luck in the backfield, it could be difficult to utilize those talents though. While Luck can manipulate the safeties with his eyes, if they are able to stay back and not worry about providing any support in the running game, it is virtually impossible to use play action effectively.
While it may not directly affect them in terms of losing a player on that side of the ball, the defense could be affected as well. Ballard was the work horse back, depended on to pound the ball between the tackles and take time off the clock when needed and give the defense a rest when they needed it. Unless Bradshaw can return to his form with the Giants, that back is just not in the locker room right now. Without that option the drives could be shorter, putting more pressure on the defense to be ready after those quick drives.
While I don’t feel doom and gloom about the Colts’ running game, there is a lot riding on Ahmad Bradshaw’s right foot. If he can get healthy and find that form as I mentioned earlier, he is a proven replacement for Ballard. Even as a young a player Ballard is, he has grown markedly within the Colts’ offense. His pass blocking has been outstanding, he has proven he can catch the ball out of the back field and make plays, as seen in the game at Tennessee last season., and is just a solid overall player for the Colts moving forward. His injury overall means that the old cliché of next man up will be heard often from locker room interviews in Indianapolis, this is a great organization with front office personnel that knows what fits their team and will put the right player in place to get this team to the playoffs once again.