September 22, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw (44) runs the ball against the San Francisco 49ers during the first quarter at Candlestick Park. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
Andrew Luck ran a perfectly executed quarterback draw into the end zone, and the Colts’ 27-7 masterpiece over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday was sealed.
The surprisingly easy victory was undoubtedly the most impressive under Chuck Pagano, and for good reason: The Colts won by running the football.
“It was one of those games that you look back and say, maybe five, six years down the road, that was a signature win,” Pagano said. “Maybe one of those wins that propel you to do great things.”
Forget about the defense that, for the most part, contained Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore and the defending NFC champions. Forget that they were without six starters. Sunday’s win at Candlestick Park was about the offense.
In a quarterback-driven league where teams have stockpiled on tight ends and wide receivers, running backs have subsequently become complementary pieces on offense. With Luck, Reggie Wayne, Darrius Heyward-Bay, Coby Fleener and others, the Colts are no exception.
And yet, even with Luck looking more and more like his predecessor with each passing week, the Colts have done a lot of talking on becoming a power running team under new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.
Until Sunday, the Colts had not done much on the field to back up their bold statement. But when Ryan Grigson shocked everyone by dealing next year’s first-round pick to the Cleveland Browns for Trent Richardson last Wednesday, he sent a message: The Colts were going all-in to become a power running team.
Jim Irsay, seemingly surprised by the sudden developments, notably referred to the deal as “a monster trade” on his Twitter account:
Richardson, the Alabama product drafted two spots behind Luck in 2012, scored on his very first carry as a Colt, a short one-yarder to give the Colts a 7-0 lead in the first quarter. He finished with 13 carries for just 35 yards, but his impact was much greater.
The other running back, Ahmad Bradshaw, had an even better game, rushing 19 times for 95 yards and a one-yard blast that put the icing on the cake.
With Richardson and Bradshaw, the running game has finally returned to Indianapolis. Ranked 22nd in the league last year with 104.4 rushing yards per game, the Colts have risen up to fourth so far through three games, grinding out 146.3 each week.
In turn, the passing game has taken a dip, plummeting from 7th to 26th with 206.3 passing yards this year after airing out 258 per game in 2012. Granted, this was to be expected with a new offensive coordinator and a different scheme.
It’s comforting to know that the Colts won a game without Luck throwing a touchdown. It’s even more comforting to know that they rushed for more yards than Luck did through the air. If that isn’t the “power running game” that Pep Hamilton has been preaching, nothing is.
I said last month that the Colts’ offense will always be about Luck, and I still believe so. Luck will always be the face of the Colts, but a rediscovered rushing attack will force opposing defenses to divert their attention away from Luck and over to his supporting cast.
With an offense that was already formidable with Luck, the new power running game that we’ve all been waiting to see just adds another dimension, much like it had with Peyton Manning, Edgerrin James, and Marvin Harrison.
Jim Irsay was right: His team is becoming a monster.