"We’re trying to build something special. We’re trying to build a monster here, and we're trying to build a program for sustained success in the long haul.’’ Those were the words of head coach Chuck Pagano regarding the Indianapolis Colts' trade for running back Trent Richardson, via Sporting News.
Pagano's vision for the Colts has been very clear. After taking over head coaching responsibilities in 2012, he indicated what his intentions were for the team during an interview with Jeff Legwold of the Denver Post:
You watch the Steelers play, haven't you? I've always said this and I learned this from my dad growing up, you've got to run the football and you've got to stop the run to be successful, at any level. We want to be explosive, we want to be physical, we want to be tough, we want to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
After the Colts' strong showing against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Pagano's intentions look to have become a reality.
Even though Richardson did not have a stellar debut with the team, he allowed a physical mindset to take shape. Despite facing off against a stingy 49ers defense, the Colts were committed to the run on Sunday in a committee-style approach. Rushing a total of 39 times—for an impressive average of 4.6 yards per carry—Indianapolis was able to keep the dangerous Colin Kaepernick off the field and dominate time of possession to the tune of 36:25 to 23:35.
Not only did the Colts offense dominate time of possession, but it also fared better in total first downs (23 to 14), third-down efficiency (41.7 percent to 25 percent), total yards (336 to 254) and yards per play (5.0 to 4.8).
This offensive mentality finally took the pressure off second-year quarterback Andrew Luck. His statistical performance was nothing overly impressive—he completed 18 of 27 attempts for 164 yards and a passer rating of 82.9—but he delivered when it counted most. Luck passed for nine first downs and was not responsible for any costly turnovers.
Luck did rush four times for 24 yards; however, this time it was not out of necessity. A physical, balanced offense allowed Luck to pick apart the San Francisco defense as he saw fit. One such example was a perfectly executed six-yard touchdown run by the quarterback.
With the offensive line dominating at the point of attack, running back Ahmad Bradshaw was having his way with the defense. Once the 49ers focused on shutting down the interior of the line near the goal line, Luck ran a perfectly executed naked bootleg for the touchdown.
This kind of offensive balance creates versatility.
Physicality and winning in the trenches are the best ingredients for success to a young quarterback. The Colts simply dominated in these regards—not only on the offensive side of the ball, but on defense as well.
The Indianapolis defense as a whole deserves an enormous amount of credit for Sunday's win. Linebackers Jerrell Freeman and Robert Mathis led an impressive, physical effort to completely shut down a dangerous 49ers offense.
The Colts defense dominated on the line and frequented the 49ers backfield. It sacked Kaepernick three times and pressured him often, forcing errant throws that led to six passes defensed, including one interception. Completing less than 50 percent of his passes, Kaepernick finished 13-of-27 for 150 yards and one interception—good for a passer rating of 49.9. The versatile quarterback was also held to just 20 rushing yards on seven carries, a 2.9 yard-per-carry average.
Aside from a 91-yard, first-quarter scoring drive by the 49ers that mostly featured the run, the Colts remained stout in that phase of the game. During that drive, the 49ers racked up 78 rushing yards; however, they finished the game with just 115, totaling 37 yards on the ground over the rest of the game.
The lack of sustained drives by the 49ers is a testament to the effectiveness of the Colts defense.
This amount of physicality has been unheralded in Indianapolis in years past, as the Colts were known as a finesse team. However, the win over the 49ers on Sunday is a huge statement from Pagano that these are not the Colts of old.
Via the Associated Press, Pagano said of his team's victory on Sunday, "It's one of those games you look back on down the road and say, 'This was a signature win, maybe one that helped you to do great things, that helped you accomplish the program you built.'"
For Pagano, this signature win sets the tone for the physicality he has brought to Indianapolis.