Indianapolis Colts Ground Game: Why Have They Been Running on Empty?

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Indianapolis Colts Ground Game: Why Have They Been Running on Empty?
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Indianapolis Colts' Running Back Joseph Addai

The Indianapolis Colts' offense has been one of the most one-dimensional in the league over the past three years.

In 2008, the Colts were 31st in the league in rushing yards and 32nd in the league in rushing yards per attempt.

In 2009, the Colts were 32nd in the league in rushing yards and 30th in the league in rushing yards per attempt.

In 2010, the Colts were 29th in the league in rushing yards and 25th in the league in rushing yards per attempt.

The Colts are consistently among the worst running teams in football, but why?

The Colts have first-round draft picks Joseph Addai and Donald Brown, so why can't they consistently get yards?

The problem isn't who's running the ball, it's who's blocking for them.

If the running back doesn't have a hole to run through and has to break tackles behind the line of scrimmage, they aren't going to have very much success.

The problem started in 2007 when offensive tackle Tarik Glenn announced his retirement. Glenn was a Pro Bowler in his three final years in the league.

The Colts drafted Tony Ugoh in Round 2 of the 2007 draft before Glenn retired. Here is what one scouting report said about Ugoh:

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"Lacks dominant strength, gets minimal movement from run blocks and is not a finisher. Considered a track guy who was coaxed to play football."

Ugoh was drafted in the second round to be a part of pass protection, but nobody was able to replace Glenn's presence as a run-blocker.

In 2006, the Colts were 16th in the league in rushing yards per carry. Since then, they have declined to 22nd in 2007, 32nd in 2008, 30th in 2009 and 25th in 2010.

You would think that the Colts have learned from their mistake, and would start a serious search for a long-term solution at left tackle.

What have the Colts done to address this key problem? They drafted offensive tackle Jaimie Thomas in the seventh round of the 2009 Draft and signed undrafted rookie tackle Jeff Linkenbach.

That's it.  

It is well known that Colts general manager Bill Polian criticized the performance of his offensive line after the Colts lost in Super Bowl XLIV.

So, with the offensive line being a glaring weakness of the team to the point where even the general manager is criticising the unit, you would think that Polian would put some effort to correct the problem.

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Indianapolis Colts' General Manager Bill Polian

His solution?

The Colts selected offensive guard Jacques McClendon in the fourth round of the 2010 Draft and signed undrafted rookie Jeffrey Linkenbach.

I'm not even joking.

Instead of investing in his offensive line that is so critical in the running game, Polian let a weakness of the team go ignored and, not surprisingly, the Colts struggled to run the ball again this past year.

The offensive line isn't the only part of run blocking though. When you put one or two tight ends and a fullback in the game, the extra blockers allow your team to get more push on the line of scrimmage and helps the running game.

Teams like the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons, and even the New England Patriots have done this to give their offensive lines help in the running game, and in each case, the results have been positive.

The Colts prefer to have three and four wide receiver formations on most downs because of their emphasis on the passing game. They don't even have a true fullback on their roster, and it comes back to bite them consistently in short-yardage situations.

Tell me, how is a patchwork offensive line with no extra blockers going to consistently push back the opposing defense and open up the running lanes?

It isn't, and that's the problem.

Run blocking is the most important component of the running game.

Drafting good blockers has been pretty much an afterthought for Bill Polian, and the team is paying the price now.

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