Colts have 4th worst running back unit per PFF

Dec 27, 2015; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore (23) is tackled by Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes (21) during the first half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 27, 2015; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Frank Gore (23) is tackled by Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes (21) during the first half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indianapolis Colts have struggled to run the ball for years now, and an aging starter with a mediocre backup doesn’t bode well for the running game in 2016.

The Colts spent big in free agency back in 2015. One of those moves was to bring in longtime 49ers running back Frank Gore. To his credit, Gore played well with a porous offensive line and an inconsistent passing attack.

The 33-year old running back played for most of the season with an injured hand and was clearly unhappy with how things played out last season. For just the third time in his 11-year career, Gore failed to hit the 1,000 yard rushing marked, coming up just short with 967 yards.

Heading into the 2016 season, the Colts running back situation is largely unchanged. They still have Gore and added Robert Turbin, who appeared in 10 games for two different teams and totaled just 199 rushing yards (albeit at a 4.0 yards per attempt average). Turbin’s chances of making the roster also just took a hit after he was cited for possession over the weekend. 

Over at Pro Football Focus, Mike Renner doesn’t have a favorable outlook for the Colts running backs in 2016. He has them ranked 29th in the NFL. Here are his thoughts on the Colts’ backfield with camp just two weeks away:

"Starter: Frank GoreBackup: Robert TurbinKey stat: Frank Gore’s 36 broken tackles last season were the most he’s forced since 2012.Frank Gore never did rely on raw physical tools, but at 33 years old, those tools are as poor as they’ve ever been in his career. It’s impossible to ask him to shoulder 20 carries a game, and the Colts have big question marks behind him. In four seasons, Turbin has 318 career carries to his name, with a long-run of 26 yards, just 43 broken tackles, and an average of 2.3 yards after contact per attempt. None of those metrics really scream anything other than “backup.”"

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Gore’s usage wasn’t any lower than it was while he was in San Francisco. He had 260 carries last season (16.3 per game) which is just in line with his carries while in the Bay Area (even slightly more than 2014). Gore had just three games with over 20 carries last season, with his high being 28 against the Broncos.

In 2015, the Colts were 29th in the NFL in rushing yards but there are a few things tilted in the team’s favor as we inch closer to camp.

  • Alabama center Ryan Kelly. Adding Kelly wasn’t just a move to help shore up the Colts lackluster pass protection. The rookie is just as good at run blocking as pass blocking, and considering the run heavy Alabama system, he has more experience with taking out would be tacklers. Considering coach Chuck Pagano likes a power run game, we will likely see Kelly shouldering a lot of the burden in clearing up rushing lanes for Gore and company. Kelly is already an improvement over the turnstiles the Colts have trotted out at center the past four years.
  • A healthy Andrew Luck. Theoretically, the Colts should be using the pass to set up the run. With Luck on the field, and playing well, opposing defenses should be lining up to stop the pass and the Colts should run out of obvious passing formations. This was how the Peyton Manning-led offenses operated. But that’s not how Pagano wants his offense to operate for some reason and he often forces in power run formations that the team doesn’t have the personnel to run. But with Luck on the field, team’s will have to respect the dynamic passing attack he represents and that will open up more room for the backs to operate with.

Gore’s advancing age and the lack of a clear backup at running back are red flags for the Colts heading into the season. Getting the same effort out of Gore this year would be more or less acceptable, especially considering the wear on his tires but the Colts really need someone to emerge to split carries with him.

The good news is the Colts really can’t be all that much worse at running the ball. A better offensive line will (or should) help. There are a number of intriguing young options on the roster like Tyler Varga or rookie Josh Ferguson (who the Colts paid a relatively high price).

The Colts are looking at an uphill battle when it comes to the ground game this season, but if a few facets of the offense come together we will see a true dual threat attack in 2016.