Colts: Should Jonathan Taylor’s struggles against top defenses be a concern?

Colts RB Jonathan Taylor (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images)
Colts RB Jonathan Taylor (Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images) /

The Indianapolis Colts’ selection of Jonathan Taylor in the second round of the 2020 draft was regarded as a bit of a surprise among fans.

After all, Marlon Mack totaled 1,999 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns over the previous two seasons and was entering the final year of his rookie deal.

However, the Colts’ decision to draft Taylor ultimately proved to be the correct one as Mack suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1 last year, paving the way for Taylor to assume starting duties, albeit a little earlier than the team may have wanted.

When all was said and done, Taylor enjoyed a fantastic rookie campaign, finishing third in the league in rushing (1,169 yards), fourth in touchdowns (12) and third in first downs gained on the ground (69), to go with 5.0 yards per carry and just one fumble.

It isn’t hyperbole to call Taylor one of the best young RBs in the league. However, if you take a deeper look at his rookie year, you’ll noticed he struggled against top defenses, which begs the question of whether this should be a concern moving forward.

What to make of Jonathan Taylor’s struggles vs top defenses.

In games against the Bears, Ravens, Browns, Jets and Steelers, each of whom finished with a top 15 rushing defense (in terms of yards allowed per game) in 2020, Taylor eclipsed the 70-yard threshold just once. That came in Week 16 vs Pittsburgh and it took 18 carries.

In those five contests, Taylor managed just 285 yards and on 66 carries. While 4.3 yards per attempt is nothing to sniff at, it speaks volumes that 884 of the Wisconsin product’s rookie rushing yards came against some of the dregs of the NFL.

For context, Taylor totaled 504 rushing yards in just three games vs the Jaguars, Raiders and Vikings, who ranked 30th, 24th and 27th against the run, respectively. While the former Badger should be expected to feast against weaker opponents, why was it that he struggled so much against some of the NFL’s better defenses?

Well, if you recall, the Colts’ usually-dominant offensive line struggled to create holes for the running game early in the season. On top of that, the games vs the Bears, Browns and Jets came in quick succession in Weeks 3, 4 and 5. What does that tell you?

For a rookie who was JUST handed the starting role the week prior, it’s not surprising Taylor struggled. As for the Ravens game, that came during a point in the season (Week 9) when the young RB was losing his grip on the starting job, so cut him a little slack for that no-show.

By the time Week 16 came around, Taylor was hitting his stride, and the fact he tallied 76 yards on 4.2 yards per carry against the Steelers’ stacked defense was very noteworthy.

In other words, Colts fans shouldn’t be overly concerned about Taylor’s shortcomings vs the league’s top rushing defenses. Not only was he a rookie trying to adjust to the speed of the NFL, but it took a while for Indy’s formidable OL to kick things into high gear. Plus, he got the job done when he needed to. That’s all that matters.