One of the bigger questions heading into the 2013 season for the Indianapolis Colts is who will start at running back. Both Donald Brown and Vick Ballard are making their best cases as to why they should be the starter, and the coaching staff will have to make a difficult decision.
While both players certainly have a chance at being the starter in Week 1, the Colts would be better off choosing Ballard.
Let's take a look at the two running backs and their numbers on the ground.
Brown was unable to stay on the field consistently last year. In fact, through his first four years in the NFL, he hasn't played in 14 games in any season. That kind of durability concern could hurt in the long run, but since he's only 26 years old, his injuries likely won't factor into the decision about whether or not he'll start.
Ignoring the time missed, both running backs' numbers look quite similar. They have the same yards per carry, and the extra touchdown for Ballard is likely due to the fact that he played more than Brown.
However, the running style of Ballard over Brown is what makes him a better potential starter.
Remember that 2012 was Ballard's rookie season. Even as a rookie, he showed that he can make smart decisions.
Looking back to Week 10 against the Jacksonville Jaguars on the very first offensive play, you can see his smart decision-making.
On this run play, the Jaguars get pressure in the backfield. Ballard sees the defender and simply goes around his offensive lineman to avoid getting tackled in the backfield.
While that is important, what come later shows promising signs of maturity.
You can see in this screenshot that Ballard is cutting in rather than going outside to the sidelines. As a running back, it is always tempting to break to the outside. However, Ballard notices that his linemen have created a running lane for him, and there is a defensive back waiting on the outside.
The run went for 11 yards. Sure, the run might have only been a few yards shorter by going to the outside, but the play was able to go for a first down. Coaches constantly preach running north and south rather than always trying to break out to the sidelines. Ballard's decisiveness in hitting the hole rather than hitting the sidelines shows maturity that rookie running backs don't often have.
On the other hand, Brown was often criticized for running side-to-side. He was able to break a couple big runs with this running style, but too often it led to short runs or even runs for no gain.
The addition of Pep Hamilton as the offensive coordinator, along with new players on the offensive line, suggest that the Colts could possibly be moving toward a zone-blocking scheme like Hamilton had at Stanford. If that is the case, Ballard's ability to find a hole rather than always head to the sidelines will make him a great fit as the starter.
Ballard started the season slowly, but found more and more touches and began to rack up yards. Looking at this graph, you can see that he began to become a highly productive player in the offense.
As the season went on, Ballard continued to become a more reliable option on offense. He was able to make some big plays, including an exciting play against the Tennessee Titans to win in overtime.
Meanwhile, looking at Brown, his numbers regressed over the season.
The falling numbers could have been because of the injuries, along with the Colts continuing to give Ballard more opportunities. However, the drop in numbers during games he played, while ignoring the seven yards against the Miami Dolphins, show that his production dropped considerably.
Again, it will be a tough decision to make as to who will start at running back. Both will likely be on the field enough. If the Colts are looking for a long-term option as a runner to get the majority of carries, Ballard should be the guy.