Speed merchants Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines fueling Colts’ offense

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INDIANAPOLIS – The ending gave it away: there’s a serious speed issue involving two of the Indianapolis Colts’ unquestioned playmakers.

As Jonathan Taylor was completing his 78-yard touchdown run in the third quarter against the New York Jets Thursday evening, he added one of those sprinter’s leans at the goal line. You know, breaking the electric eye, trimming every millisecond off his time.

According to Next Gen Stats, Taylor hit a top speed of 22.05 miles per hour on the run, the fastest time by a ball carrier this season. The second-fastest time: Taylor in week 8 against the Tennessee Titans (21.83 mph).

Linebacker Darius Leonard was mic’d up and catching a quick breather on the bench as Carson Wentz took the offense to the line of scrimmage for a first-and-10 at the Indy 22 at the 6:12 mark of the third quarter.

Wentz tucked the ball in Taylor’s belly, Taylor waited for a massive hole over the right side to yawn open, then hit the afterburners.

“He gone,’’ Leonard said.

He bounced to his feet and raced towards the edge of the field to get a better look at his streaking teammate.

“When he gets to the second level, I feel like it’s going to the house,’’ Frank Reich said. “He’s just fast, strong and elusive.’’

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Taylor has the two longest runs in the NFL this season: the 78-yarder and a franchise-record 83-yard run against Houston. He also took a simple screen from Wentz at Baltimore and turned it into a 76-yard TD.

“What is JT doing? He’s going crazy,’’ running mate Nyheim Hines said after Thursday night’s offensive fireworks by Taylor and the Colts. “I see this all the time. It’s nothing that is surprising to us.

“JT is a remarkable player. He’s a transcendent talent. He’s one of the top-five backs in the league. We don’t tweet, ‘Run the damn ball’ for nothing. You’ve got 28. You’ve got that racehorse back there wearing 28. Give him the ball.’’

The Colts, as most are aware, have a pair of racehorses.

Hines is able to keep up with Taylor, virtually step for step.

While Taylor has turned the two quickest times by a ball carrier this season, he and Hines were in the mix in 2020. Taylor hit 22.05 mph on a 29-yard run against Jacksonville in week 17 (4th-fastest, according to Next Gen Stats) and 21.6 mph on a 39-yard TD catch from Philip Rivers in week 13 at Houston (12th). Hines checked in at No. 6 at 21.85 mph on a kickoff return in the same game against the Texans.

There was no posted time on Hines’ 34-yard reverse-field TD against the Jets, but once he turned the left edge, no one caught him as he sprinted to the left pylon. Cornerback Brandin Echols and safety Marcus Maye had decent angles in their pursuit, but Hines’ speed negated that.

It was mentioned to Hines that Taylor has the two longest rushes of the season.

He laughed.

“Well, hopefully I get one. I’m coming for him,’’ Hines said with a grin. “But you know, we have a great line, a quarterback that gets us in the right runs, tight ends who are willing to block, receivers – Pitt (Michael Pittman Jr.), (Zach) Pascal, Ashton Dulin – we have guys who are willing to help us out.

“So it’s not just us.’’

But speed often is the deal breaker for a defense.

And Taylor and Hines bring speed. Always have.

Each was an elite sprinter in high school. Taylor won consecutive 100-meter titles in the New Jersey Meet of Champions for Salem High School. Hines placed second in North Carolina’s 4A state finals in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles for Garner H.S., and was a standout sprinter for N.C. State’s indoor and outdoor track teams. He was a part of the Wolfpack’s first-team All-America 4×100-meter relay unit in 2016.

At the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, Taylor turned in the best time among running backs, a 4.39.

Two years earlier, Hines posted the best 40 at the position, a 4.38.

Hines looks the part of burner: 5-9, 196 pounds.

That’s not necessarily the case with Taylor: 5-10, 226 pounds.

“That’s the most deceptive thing for JT,’’ Hines said. “For JT to be like 230, he’s very, very quick. He’s probably quicker than me. At his weight . . . him and Derrick Henry are both really, really fast.

“For him to be 230 and that fast, he’s special.’’

Wentz doesn’t argue the point. A quarterback’s best friend, he noted, are those one-play, 78-yard drives. Every time he gets the football to Taylor – on handoffs, in the passing game where he’s averaging 12.7 yards on 23 receptions – he expects “something big.’’

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“I mean, he is so consistent,’’ Wentz said. “Thinking back to it, I think that sequence he had that run where he had that nasty stiff arm to get us down there near the end zone. I think it was just a couple of plays later he busted out for almost 80 and that’s who he is.

“He can do it between the tackles, he’s physical, he’s downhill, he can slash. Then you get him out in space, nobody’s catching him.

“We already talked about it. It makes my life so much easier when he can do that.’’

Run the Damn Ball

The Colts finished with 260 rushing yards, the 5th-best total in their Indy era. But it could have been so much more.

After three quarters and with the Colts holding a 42-16 lead, the run game had piled up 261 yards on 28 attempts. The fourth quarter could have been an opportunity for Reich to really lean on his ground game and fatten the stats.

Instead, Indy ran twice: Taylor for no gain and Wentz with a game-ending kneel down for a minus-1. Wentz accounted for seven of the plays on the final two drives with pass attempts.

In large part that was a result of the Jets dominating the final 15 minutes. They piled up huge edges in plays (33-10), time of possession (10:42-4:18) and yards (191-53). The Colts failed to convert third-down situations on their final two possessions.

Big-man TD

Speed wasn’t a factor in one of the Colts’ other TDs against the Jets. It was the deceptiveness of backup offensive lineman Danny Pinter and Wentz finally getting to him in his progression.

“Actually it was just in this week,’’ Reich said. “He was the last option, obviously. Didn’t think was going to go there, but good job by Carson to find him.’’

Pinter, a 2020 fifth-round pick out of Ball State and former tight end for the Cardinals, checked in as an eligible receiver for a first-and-goal at the Jets 2 in the third quarter. He initially engaged Shaq Lawson on the play, then slipped out to the left side of the end zone. No defender followed him.

After looking to his right, Wentz finally came back to the left where he spotted Pinter.

“I thought I short-hopped it to him,’’ Wentz said.

Pinter went to his kneels and cradled the football for his first NFL catch/TD.

“It was pretty cool,’’ Pinter said. “It’s hard to put into words really. My mind kind of went blank there for a little bit, but just cool.’’

Wentz jokingly said he’ll have to give Pinter a hard time about his TD celebration.

“It was really more lack of celebration,’’ Pinter said. “Honestly, I didn’t have anything planned. They gave me a hard time about that.”

“What’s actually funny is I was kind of one of the last options, Carson came up to me after walkthrough and said, ‘Hey, if nobody goes with you, yell my name.’ And he reiterated that there better be nobody and sure enough, it worked out well. Can’t complain.’’

Injury update

Reich was unable to provide an update on the triceps injury that forced right tackle Braden Smith out of the Jets game. Cornerback Xavier Rhodes also exited the game after aggravating a calf injury.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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