Following the Week 6 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, running the ball against a loaded box became a big conversation for the Indianapolis Colts. In the 37-20 loss, Gardner Minshew dropped back to pass around 60 times, while Jonathan Taylor and Zack Moss had a combined 15 carries. This left a lot of fans confused, considering that the rushing attack is the strength, and should be the identity, of the offense.
Following the game, the Colts explained that their offensive game plan was impacted by the way the Jaguars’ defense played. Since Jacksonville stayed in a base formation with a loaded box (eight or more defenders), Indianapolis went away from the run, turning to a quick passing game. Unfortunately, this explanation didn’t settle the waters for Colts fans and media members.
Instead, somewhat of a debate broke out about how Indy should attack loaded boxes. While some people argued that head coach Shane Steichen and the Colts were justified for not running into Jacksonville’s aggressive front, others felt that Indy forfeited the run game before ever actually being denied, making the case that Steichen should’ve challenged the Jaguars to actually stop the run.
Well, that game is over, and the Colts already lost. However, it’s definitely not the last time that Indy will see a loaded box. Considering that Indianapolis has Taylor and Moss in the backfield, and an underwhelming passing game right now, Indy should expect to see a lot of defenders in the box moving forward. That means this debate could be going on for a while. It may take looking at the past to see which side is right.
To make things easier, let’s just look at Taylor’s numbers. He has been with Indy the longest, and will also be receiving the most carries moving forward. So how has performed against a loaded box?
Has Jonathan Taylor been productive against a stacked box?
Let’s go back to the season where Jonathan Taylor established himself as a top running back in the league: 2021. Taylor played in every game that season, and Indy had a really good offensive line, just as they do now— that’s an important factor in the equation. During that season, Taylor led the league in carries with 332, yards with 1,811, and rushing touchdowns with 18. With that type of production, you’d probably guess that opposing teams loaded the box in an attempt to stop Taylor.
You’d be right. According to Next Gen Stats, Indy lined up against a stacked box on 26.81% of the plays that Taylor ran the ball. That’s the highest percentage for any running back that ran over 1,000 yards that season. As you can see, that didn’t slow Taylor down. Let’s dive a bit deeper though.
In the first 11 games of that season, Taylor ran into a loaded box 63 times (not including goal-to-go situations). On those carries, Taylor had 350 yards (5.6 yards a carry). So, a loaded box wasn’t much of a problem for the Colts when Taylor was healthy and the offensive line was playing well. Dan Pizzuta made that clear in an even more in depth piece for Sharp Football Analysis.
But, to be fair, all stacked boxes aren’t created equal. Defenses can complicate things for the offense based on how many defensive linemen there are, where the defenders are aligned, and more. However, Indy has seen all of that, and the determining factor has been Taylor and the offensive line. So sometimes, the Colts are just going to have to run the ball into a loaded box and prove that it doesn't matter.