INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – There are times when that complicated venture which is the NFL isn’t the least bit complicated.
We offer the Indianapolis Colts and their approach to converting one of a game’s most influential plays.
That would be third-and-1. Convert, and move the chains. Get stuffed, and most of the time the quarterback yields his spot on the field to the punter.
So, what to do? Check the play list of preferred short-yardage options? Spread the defense with a three-wide receiver formation? Rely on your ‘Jumbo’ package?
Chuck Pagano has a more simplistic approach.
“I think hand the ball to Turbin, right?’’ he said with a smile. “I don’t know what his numbers were (last year), but he was really good.’’
Yes, he was.
Robert Turbin was Frank Gore’s backup last season, and emerged as coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s short-yardage and goal-line specialist. He excelled in each role, and checked in as one of the league’s top short-yardage backs.
Turbin was one of four players to convert all of his third-and-1 opportunities, with a minimum of five. He was 5-for-5. Andrew Luck was a tick behind at 5-for-6.
As a team, the Colts ranked in the middle of the pack in converting third-and-1 by running – 11-of-15, 73.3 percent – which contributed to them ranking 7th in overall third-down conversions (43.1 percent).
“It’s huge,’’ left tackle Anthony Castonzo said of the Colts’ late-down successes. “You get that third-and-short or that fourth-and-short, those are game-changing plays.’’
Often, it was Turbin finding a seam, a crease, a sliver of space, moving the pile just enough.
Why was he so successful?
“Have you seen him?’’ Castonzo asked with a widening smile.
For those who haven’t, Turbin is 5-10, 216 pounds.
“He’s a rock,’’ Castonzo said. “He’s a hard man to take down. He’s a physical, physical guy.
“He just really wants it.’’
It’s easy to overlook Turbin’s impact on the Colts’ offense a year ago, until you take a closer look. It was a classic case of quality over quantity.
Turbin, powerful and personable, and Gore shared the team lead with eight touchdowns even though their workloads were hugely disproportionate. Turbin had 73 “touches’’ – seven TDs on 47 rushing attempts, another on 26 receptions – while Gore handled 301.
And in the spirit of doing a lot with a little, it’s worth considering Turbin’s ability to do a lot when only a little was required.
You know, third-and-1.
“It’s a mindset,’’ Pagano said. “When you’re on offense, that yard looks like two miles and when you’re on defense, it looks like two inches.
“You’ve got to execute and you’ve got to knock people off the line of scrimmage and have a changeup.
“Hopefully we can keep trending in that direction.’’
Tuesday, the Colts briefly turned everyone loose for “live’’ tackling, and the session involved third-and-1. There were only six plays – three with the first unit, three with the second group – but the hitting was crisp. Gore picked up a first down with a nice spin move that sent him around right end. Turbin picked up another, getting just enough to move the chains by finding room between the tackles.
Keep it simple. Keep feeding Turbin.
He echoed Pagano’s “mindset’’ comment, adding, “Coach talks about it all the time. ‘We’ve gotta get a yard anyway possible.’’’
Running backs coach Jemal Singleton preaches a similar sermon, according to Turbin: “The offensive line can pass out – every single one of them – at the snap, but as the runner we have to find a way to get a yard.’’
“It’s everybody involved in that huddle,’’ Turbin said. “What can we do to make sure we get a yard, two yards, three yards or whatever it is? Let’s just not be denied.
“Gotta find a way, man.’’
Third-and-1 could be contested in a walk-in closet. It’s close-quarters combat to the extreme as defenses generally crowd the line of scrimmage with extra linemen or linebackers.
“It’s a grinder’s play,’’ Castonzo said. “You know there’s going to be a body you’ve got to push out of the way to get that yard.
“Third-and-1 is a little grimy. There’s a lot of bodies in there, a lot of leg drive, a lot of pushing. Somebody’s gotta win a one-on-one to get that yard.’’
Often, that someone is Robert Turbin. And he loves it.
“Gotta find a way, man,’’ he said. “I can make a wrong read or anything, but it could be the offensive line that pushes us through or a tight end that pushes us through to get us that extra yard to convert. Or somebody could miss a block and it could be a runner making somebody miss.
“Anything can happen, but it is just about finding a way. It’s first downs before touchdowns. Go and get what you need.’’