Run the ball, stop the run.
The Colts need either a new mantra or some new personnel.
Though many, many things went wrong in their 43-22 AFC divisional round playoff loss to the Patriots in New England Saturday night, the first domino, the thing that set everything else in motion, was a staggeringly thorough inability to either move the ball on the ground or stop the Patriots from doing so.
The Patriots rushed for 234 yards, including a franchise postseason record 166 from LeGarrette Blount, who also scored four of the team’s six rushing touchdowns. That made the Patriots one of two teams in the Super Bowl era to rush for that many touchdowns in a playoff game (joining the 1994 San Francisco 49ers).
New England scored more than 40 points without a single touchdown pass from Tom Brady. It’s the first time that’s happened since 2001 (also against the Colts).
And the thing is, the Colts knew what was coming, and still couldn’t stop it.
“We went back and considering the conditions today we figured it would be a ton of Blount and (Stevan) Ridley,” Pagano said. “We knew we were going to get it and that’s what’s disappointing and discouraging is the fact that you know you’re going to get it and credit them: they did a great job running it and they did a great job of blocking and executing.”
The running game set up everything else for the Patriots. Brady’s two biggest completions, a 53-yarder to Danny Amendola in the third quarter and a 27-yarder to Julian Edelman in the second – both of which led to critical touchdowns – came on play-action fakes against a defense prioritizing the run.
First-and-10? Second-and-eight? Third and-three? Didn’t matter. The Patriots ran on any down, any distance.
The Colts’ defense ranked 26th in rushing yards allowed (125.1) and 25th in per-carry average (4.47) during the regular season and proceeded to get exponentially worse. In two playoff games they were shredded for 384 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, primarily against castoffs and backups.
And still, they entered the fourth quarter with a chance, down just seven, fully within striking distance even on a night when Andrew Luck was at his absolute worst.Until Blount broke through the crowded box, slipped the tackle of safety LaRon Landry and bolted 73 yards for the clincher. The next play produced Luck’s fourth interception of the night and that was that.
As for the Colts’ running game, it went where it has gone most of the season: nowhere. Donald Brown finished with respectable numbers, 63 yards on 17 carries, but 16 came on a garbage-time gimme.
These big holes the Colts find themselves in, time after time? The defense gets its share of the blame but the inability of the offense to establish any kind of a ground game has contributed. In the two playoff games, the Colts managed 77 rushing yards in the first half – 35 from Luck. The opponents had 190 and, not coincidentally, outscored the Colts 52-22.
Rip Luck’s four interceptions all you want, point the finger at his uncharacteristic inaccuracy, but the simple fact is this: it is unreasonable to expect any quarterback, even one as gifted, to do it all by himself.
And what of Trent Richardson? I asked offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton Wednesday if he had lost confidence in Richardson after that fumble on his first carry against Kansas City. He insisted otherwise, but the facts tell a different story. Richardson carried three times against the Patriots, managing one yard.
Which brings us to the punch line.
When the Patriots needed help for their running game, they sent a seventh-round pick and Jeff Demps to Tampa Bay for Blount.
When the Colts needed help for their running game, they sent a first-round pick to Cleveland for Richardson.
In Blount’s last two games, he racked up 355 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
In Richardson’s last two games, he managed one yard on four carries and lost a fumble.
Next mantra up.