INDIANAPOLIS – After doing so much, one thought seemed to linger with Jonathan Taylor.
I should have done more.
More than an NFL-leading and franchise-record 1,811 rushing yards?
More than a league-best 2,171 total yards from scrimmage?
More than a franchise-record 18 rushing touchdowns and 20 total TDs, tied for most in the league and most in team history?
More than being one of five unanimous first-team All-Pro selections?
More than having a game-worn jersey on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame to recognize being the youngest player in league history – 22 years old – to generate at least 2,000 yards from scrimmage and tack up 20 total TDs?
Because in Taylor’s critical eyes, more was required considering his individual brilliance wasn’t enough to carry the Indianapolis Colts into the postseason.
“You know you’re having a great season, that you’re playing well because that’s what you want to do,’’ Taylor said. “. . . but it’s just a matter of fact of, ‘What’s something I could have done a little more, a little different?’ Little things to maybe make the o-line’s job a little bit easier or I could have gotten back to give Carson (Wentz) another second.
“You know you’re having a good season, but it’s we, not me. You’re thinking, ‘How could I help the team a little more?’’’
That’s a player with rare talent also being properly wired.
On the long list of things that contributed to the Colts fading in historical fashion and failing to make the playoffs for the second time in three seasons, Taylor ranked 999th. Probably lower.
He led the NFL in 100-yard games (10) along with rushes of at least 20 yards (14) and 40 yards (five). He piled up a league-best 107 rushing first downs, 42 more than runner-up Antonio Gibson. He averaged 5.5 yards on his 317 attempts, another club record for backs with at least 100 carries.
I could have done more.
“There were definitely some runs that I would like to have back just from your own personal knowledge of, ‘I know I’ve made that person, that kind of person coming in on a certain ankle miss before,’’’ Taylor said. “I’ve made that play before, and you might not have necessarily made that play. You know you made that play a ton of times.
“So there’s definitely a handful you wish you had back, and it’s a matter of what kind of level of focus can I come into the next time that situation comes to ensure that you don’t miss that opportunity.’’
And let’s be clear: Taylor will have ample opportunities in the coming seasons.
Remember, his breakout season came in year 2. He turned 23 last week.
“The guy is tremendous, and I don’t think we’ve seen the best of him,’’ general manager Chris Ballard said. “I think he’s going to continue to get better.’’
But there remains a question whether an offense that’s so dependent upon a running back is capable of making a deep run in the postseason, especially with so many teams following the lead of playmaking quarterbacks.
The NFL’s Final 8 this past weekend involved six teams that ranked in the top-10 in passing and three in the top-3 in rushing.
The conference championship games feature three top-7 passing attacks (Kansas City, 4th; the Los Angeles Rams, 5th and Cincinnati, 7th), and San Francisco, which balances a 7th-ranked run game with a 12th-ranked passing game.
The AFC is teeming with young, prolific QBs: Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson.
It’s worth noting Taylor is the first league rushing champion not to reach the playoffs since Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011.
“What I would tell you is look at Tennessee, who we have a ton of respect for,’’ Ballard said. “Derrick Henry, I know they ended up doing well without him, but Derrick Henry kind of led them.
“There’s a way to win every game. You find a way to win every game. Y’all might not agree with it, but you find a way to win a game. If that means we’re running it, that’s what we do. If it means throwing it 60 times a game, then that’s what you do.’’
There shouldn’t be any debate that a Taylor-centric offense is sound enough to propel the Colts into the postseason and possibly make a deep run. But it requires more consistent, reliable play at quarterback, and that’s something Carson Wentz failed to deliver as the season unraveled.
That’s a franchise-shaping conundrum owner Jim Irsay, Ballard and coach Frank Reich must address in the coming weeks and months.
“Do I think you need to throw the ball to win? Yes, I do. Absolutely,’’ Ballard said. “But do I think Jonathan Taylor can be a major focal point? Absolutely.
“The guy’s special. Guy’s special.’’
And Taylor was the electric catalyst for a special running game.
The Colts finished 2nd in rushing – their best finish since ranking 2nd in 1983 – and piled up 2,540 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per attempt, both the 2nd-best in club history. The 149.4 yards per game was the highest since 1985 (152.4).
And that’s after a slow start to the season. During their 0-3 start, the Colts averaged 103 yards per game.
What to do with Hines?
More of Taylor invariably meant less of Nyheim Hines.
But it shouldn’t have been this much less.
The Colts showed their conviction in Hines in September by signing the 2018 fourth-round pick to a three-year, $18.6 million extension that included $12 million in guarantees. He was coming off the most productive season of his young career: 380 yards and three TDs on 89 rushing attempts, and 482 yards and four TDs on 63 receptions.
Hines’ involvement in the offense and contributions dipped dramatically last season. He was on the field for 32% of the offensive plays, which tied a career low and was down from 36% in 2020, and handled 96 total touches, down from 152 last season and again equaling a career low.
His 586 total yards from scrimmage – 276 rushing, 310 receiving – were 276 fewer than ’20.
“Nyheim’s a good player,’’ Ballard said. “We’ve got to get him more involved, and we’ve got to get him touches.
“I think his catch total went from 63 to (40). We’ve got to get him involved.’’
The Colts became more Taylor-reliant over the final half of the season, and less of Hines was a byproduct. His stats over the final eight games: 15 rushes for 85 yards, 16 receptions for 126 yards, two total TDs.
“When we started to commit to the run, some of that production fell off,’’ Ballard said.
The Colts always have faced the challenge of maximizing Hines’ versatility, but last season proved to be a challenge they were unable to conquer.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.