Ahmad Bradshaw isn’t going anywhere.
Except forward, at least for now.
The acquisition of Trent Richardson led to presumptions of imminent marginalization for Bradshaw, largely because of Richardson’s profile as the No. 3 pick in the 2012 draft and the headlines generated by last week’s blockbuster trade.
But Bradshaw’s performance in the Colts’ impressive 27-7 victory in San Francisco Sunday should serve as a reminder of a couple of things:
- Bradshaw’s still pretty good;
- In this offense, there’s plenty of room for at least two running backs.
While the cameras focused on Richardson, who scored a touchdown on his first carry but finished with a modest 35 yards on 13 carries, the offense looked to Bradshaw, who racked up 95 yards – 62 in the second half – as the Colts offered the most compelling evidence yet that Pep Hamilton’s bulldozer offense is indeed carving a path in the psyche of the opposition.
If Bradshaw was trying to make a statement with his performance, it was heard loud and clear.
“You know what? That’s how he’s played ever since he’s been in the league, to be honest with you,” Coach Chuck Pagano said. “He runs angry, as we always talk about. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and he’s running that way. He prepares extremely hard. He just wants to win. He knows if he runs that way, he’s going to give our team the best opportunity to win. That’s just how he’s wired and that’s just in his DNA. He doesn’t know any different.”
After racking up 179 rushing yards against one of the NFL’s stingiest defenses, the Colts rank fourth in the league with an average of 146.3 per game. That would stand as their highest mark since 1985. They haven’t ranked higher in the NFL since 1983.
Those weren’t exactly halcyon days, unless you’re big fans of Curtis Dickey, Randy McMillan and George Wonsley. But those teams ran because they couldn’t pass (sorry, Mike Pagel). That clearly is not the case with these Colts.
“For our offense to be successful,” said Andrew Luck, “we are going to have to run the ball with success.”
Evidence of that was offered immediately. With the 49ers defense loaded up to stop the run, the Colts called passes on 10 of their first 13 plays, including five of the seven on their opening scoring drive.
From then on, with the 49ers not sure quite what to expect, the Colts went to the ground for 33 of their final 54 play-calls.
Of their 39 runs overall, just two were stopped for negative yardage, while four went for 10 or more.
“They were fully expecting us to pound that rock early,” Pagano said. “To Pep’s credit and the rest of the offensive staff’s credit, they come out and hit them with some hard-sell play-action passes and got the ball down the field. To have a touchdown-scoring drive on that first one was huge. …
“When you can do that, you can run the ball and have success running the ball like that, it just opens up. It helps protection. There’s huge gaps between the line of scrimmage and the back end because everybody’s sucking up. The safety’s coming down, the linebackers are playing downhill and the next thing you know it’s play-action pass, you pull the ball out off the play fake and it just opens up everything else. If we can continue to have the success that we’re having running the football, it’s just going to open things up for everybody else.”
It was not coincidental that the 49ers had just one sack, that Luck had as clean a pocket as he’s had this season and was purely efficient as a result.
“When you’re able to run the ball like that, it does frustrate a defense,” said tackle Anthony Castonzo. “I know it helps me out especially on the edges. It frustrates defensive ends that they can’t just rush the passer all day. It kind of keeps us as the attacker and the fact that we’re able to be multi-dimensional and I imagine that was frustrating for the defense.”
But will the shared load ultimately frustrate the backs themselves? There’s little reason to believe so.
Bradshaw was in a tag-team situation throughout his years with the Giants, breaking in with Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward and moving on to David Wilson. Richardson was Mark Ingram’s backup his first two years at Alabama before becoming a solo act, and he should actually thrive in a situation where he doesn’t have to carry the full load.
“We’re pretty dangerous and it is hard to tell what is going to come at you,” Richardson said. “It is kind of tough to know what is going to come at you.”
But defenses now know the Colts, whether with Bradshaw or Richardson, are going to come at them. This is a very different offensive personality than Colts fans are used to but it can be similarly effective.
“A lot of people didn’t believe we were physical. A lot of people thought we were just finesse,” said defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois. “But we can do both and when you have both, that’s a dangerous weapon to have.
“We want to show the Porterhouse steak, and the meat and potatoes with the gravy on it.”
For the first time in years, the Colts can pick from a full menu.
>> Pagano said safety LaRon Landry (ankle), center Samson Satele (elbow), linebacker Pat Angerer (knee) and Francois (groin) will enter the week listed as day-to-day.
>> Lawrence Guy returned to the Colts Tuesday when they signed the defensive end from the Redskins’ practice squad along with tackle Xavier Nixon. Guy spent the 2012 season with the Colts, totaling 21 tackles and one sack in nine games. Nixon was an all-SEC performer at Florida originally signed by the Redskins as an undrafted free agent. The Colts will have to make two additional moves to reach the 53-man roster limit.