Andrew Luck was the star of the show during the Colts' 45-44 comeback victory over the Kansas City Chiefs, but Brown played an important role. He had just 15 total touches, but he finished the game with 102 yards and two touchdowns with more than one big play.
It wasn't supposed to be this way. Brown wasn't supposed to be the one providing the spark for the Colts offense.
Instead, the Colts were supposed to be relying on a combination of Luck and former third overall draft pick Trent Richardson. The trade to acquire Richardson and his struggles since arriving in Indianapolis have been well-documented. He had just one carry against the Chiefs because he fumbled the ball.
However, while Richardson's struggles are obvious, they are not the only reason Brown has ascended into an important role.
Brown has been very good this season. Not just in relation to Richardson, but independent of every other running back in the league. He shows good vision, exceptional burst and enough leg drive to push his way through contact at the line of scrimmage. Importantly, he is also a valuable receiver.
The 26-year-old was selected in the first round of the 2009 draft with the 27th overall pick. For the first four years of his career, Brown struggled.
As a rookie, he had just 78 carries for 281 yards, 11 receptions for 169 yards and three total touchdowns with one fumble. For three of his first four seasons, the former Connecticut prospect had similarly limited production. It was during the Colts' 2-14 season that Brown finally showed some consistent ability on the field.
On 134 attempts in 2011, Brown averaged 4.8 yards per carry and scored five touchdowns with 16 receptions for 86 yards. Much like wide receiver Pierre Garcon, who was also productive on that team, many overlooked what Brown did because of the struggles of the team as a whole.
While he never looked like a superstar or even a player who could consistently carry the ball more than 20 times in a game, Brown proved that he could provide a spark for the offense and be productive with his touches. That is the role that he has flourished in this year.
During the regular season this year, Brown had just 102 carries but a career-high 27 receptions. He finished the season with 751 total yards, a 5.3 average per rush and 7.9 average per reception. He had a career-high eight total touchdowns, 10 if you include his first postseason game, and four plays of at least 20 yards.
Small sample size is the greatest criticism you can make of Brown this season, but the structure of the playoffs means that his sample size is irrelevant. So long as he can produce like he did against the Chiefs, then he can continue to be a crucial player for the Colts.
Brown did most of his good work in the second half.
After an impressive 46-yard reception from Da'Rick Rogers, the Colts hurried up to the line. The offense was set up at the 10-yard line with two receivers to the left, two to the right and Brown alongside Luck in the shotgun. The Chiefs are in a sub-package with six defensive backs on the field.
The Colts pull their left guard and give the ball to Brown at the snap. He immediately aligns himself behind the pulling left guard, so even as the hole opens between that player and the Colts right tackle he doesn't rush through it. Instead, Brown kicks his feet in a sidestep and hesitates for a moment.
This is crucial because it allows the pulling guard to seal off the inside of the running lane, while the two defenders to the outside do the same on the other side. On the second level, this time has given the receiver coming from the outside an opportunity to get to the safety filling the hole.
Even with his patience to set up the run, a defender still manages to trip Brown from behind. With his balance and awareness, he is able to steady himself without stopping before he continues into the end zone for what proved to be a crucial touchdown.
Very soon after that score, Brown found the end zone again.
This time, the play was set up by a big pass to LaVon Brazill. The Colts were just three yards out, and Brown was lined up in the bunch of four receivers to the top of the screen.
Luck throws the ball out quickly to Brown. While it wasn't called during the game, it should be noted that Brown's receivers were illegally blocking before the ball had arrived. In spite of their best efforts, Brandon Flowers was still able to hit Brown before he got to the end zone.
Flowers should have been able to knock Brown over the sideline, but Brown showed strength and he stayed low to the ground so he was able to bounce his way into the end zone.
Later in the third quarter, Brown turned a short pass underneath on 1st-and-10 into a 25-yard gain. He ran a curl route from the backfield, before catching the ball, stiff-arming a defender and accelerating past another to set the offense up at midfield.
Between that play and his previous touchdown, Luck had seen an inaccurate pass bounce off T.Y. Hilton's hands for an interception. Therefore, that play was important to steady the offense, and it ultimately started a drive that finished in the end zone.
While he had one very fortunate play after a fumble at the goal line, Brown had many impressive plays throughout the four quarters of this game. He wasn't the focal point of the offense, but he took some of the pressure off of his quarterback. That is something that too few on the Colts roster did during this specific game or throughout the season as a whole.
Brown wasn't drafted to be the center piece of the offense. Richardson wasn't acquired to be either. Both were brought in to be complements, but complements are very important in today's ultra-competitive NFL.
He may not be the first option for the future, but right now Brown is a crucial piece of the Colts' campaign for a championship.
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