Frank Gore, Colts running game going nowhere

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Frank Gore #23 of the Indianapolis Colts is tackled by Kwon Alexander #58 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 29, 2015 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (December 1, 2015) – After so many of his teammates had filed out of the Lucas Oil Stadium late Sunday afternoon, eager to enjoy another victory, Frank Gore sat in front of his cubicle.

The tireless veteran running back quietly chatted with a member of the media, and his head occasionally sagged. He was spent.

And more.

Twenty-four hours after the Indianapolis Colts’ 25-12 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Coach Chuck Pagano was asked if the centerpiece of his ground game was healthy. Gore was on the field for 69 percent of the offensive snaps – his heaviest workload in nearly two months – and spent much of the day running into a brick wall. He finished with 24 yards on 19 mostly futile carries.

“He’s like everybody else,’’ Pagano said. “He took some shots (Sunday). He’s beat to crap.’’

That not only sums up Gore but the running game as well.

As if asking 40-year-old Matt Hasselbeck to “hold the fort’’ – Hasselbeck’s words – until Andrew Luck returns, the Colts are requiring the NFL’s oldest quarterback to do so with a one-dimensional attack.

Hasselbeck’s running game ranks No. 26 in yards per game (92.0) and No. 28 in yards per attempt (3.6). More to the point, it and Gore are coming off one of their most feeble performances. Ever.

The Colts finished with 27 yards on 26 attempts. That was the 11th-fewest rushing yards in franchise history and the third-fewest in a victory. The per-carry average (1.04) was the third-lowest.

Gore’s 24 yards were the fourth-fewest in his 159-game regular-season career when he’s had at least 10 carries. His per-carry average (1.26) was his third-lowest.

And this from a player who ranks No. 15 in NFL history with 11,730 yards, has rushed for at least 1,000 yards in eight of his last nine seasons and averaged a hefty 4.5 yards per carry over the course of his Hall of Fame-worthy career.

To make it clear, this isn’t a Frank Gore issue. He’s 32 and in his 11th season, but hasn’t forgotten how to run the football. Even while dealing with ankle, foot and quadriceps injuries, he’s been the relentless hammer. Gore and defensive end Kendall Langford are unquestionably the most significant offseason free-agent acquisitions.

No, the inability to muster a legitimate running game remains a franchise problem. The Colts haven’t had a 100-yard rusher in 51 games, including the postseason. They haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2007. Both are the NFL’s longest active streaks.

There’s no question instability along the offensive line has contributed to a declining ground game. Against the Bucs, an injury to Anthony Castonzo resulted in Joe Reitz making his first career start at left tackle and rookie Denzelle Good making his pro debut as the starting right tackle.

Also, Tampa Bay and the Atlanta Falcons tossed top-10 run defenses at the Colts. They crowded the line of scrimmage, intent on making Hasselbeck, not Gore, beat them.

That must change. Soon.

Consider Gore’s declining effectiveness. After averaging 63.7 yards per game and 4.6 per attempt over the first seven games, his averages have plummeted to 52.8 per game and an alarming 2.5 per attempt over the past five.

Since averaging 6.0 yards per attempt against the Patriots, Gore’s averages have steadily declined: 4.8, 3.2, 3.0, 2.4 and the barely perceptible 1.26. The past two games, one of the most productive running backs in NFL history has rushed 33 times for 58 yards (1.8). He’s been limited to 2 yards or fewer on 21 of those 33 attempts.

Again, it’s imperative the Colts fix what remains broken. And they know it.

The task was complicated Monday when the team placed Ahmad Bradshaw on the season-ending injured reserve list with a wrist injury. Boom Herron, recently claimed off waivers from Buffalo, and Zurlon Tipton represent the depth behind Gore.

“It is going to be very, very important that we’re able to generate yards on the ground and stay with it,’’ Pagano said. “Down the stretch we’re on the road, hostile environments, loud, weather, all those things come into play and when it becomes more difficult to throw the football because of that, you better be able to run it.’’

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