Colts’ run game disappears after strong start

Sports

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA – DECEMBER 27: Running back Jonathan Taylor #28 of the Indianapolis Colts celebrates with wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. #11 after scoring a touchdown in the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on December 27, 2020 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – Let’s call it the great disappearing act.

For the first 2½ quarters, the Indianapolis Colts’ running game was obvious and vibrant.

Then – Poof! – it went away.

“Obviously we’d like to run the ball more in the second half,’’ Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly said in the aftermath of the Colts’ 28-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at Heinz Field.

The line of demarcation was clear.

After taking a 24-7 lead on Rodrigo Blankenship’s 28-yard field goal on their first drive of the second half, the Colts’ run game had gored the Steelers’ No. 8 run defense for 117 yards on 25 attempts. Jonathan Taylor had 74 yards and two TDs on 16 attempts.

But as the 17-point lead began to evaporate and the Steelers turned up the pressure on Philip Rivers in the pocket and with run blitzes, the run game completely disappeared.

On Indy’s final five possessions, the run game consisted of three carries for 25 yards. Taylor had two carries for 0 yards.

“Wish we could have got a few more things going in the run game,’’ Kelly said. “I thought that was an area we really improve on today.

“The game kind of dictates what the play call is. No matter what comes down the pipe, we’ve got to execute.’’

Coach Frank Reich lamented not getting Taylor more involved as the game unfolded, and unraveled. It began on the third-quarter drive following the field goal when the Colts were backed up at their own 2. Taylor was stopped for a minus-1 on first down followed by two Rivers’ incompletions.

The next drive was a second straight three-and-out: a sack of Rivers and two incompletions.

“We had . . . several other runs called, probably three or four other runs called that they were bringing pressures, and if we run into the pressure, it’s going to get blown out,’’ Reich said. “They were forcing our hand, and normally what our mode is, ‘If you’re going to force our hand and run some pressures or certain personnel group on defense to take away some runs, then we’re going to hurt you in the pass game.’

“And we just weren’t able to do that.’’

Rivers disagreed with the sweeping notion the Colts got away from the run in the second half.

“We just gotta execute better, whether it’s run or pass,’’ he said. “And a lot of times when we were in our three-wide personnel, they were in base defense. There’s not a  lot of good runs that you can draw up against that base defense when we’re in 11 personnel.

“I don’t think the run-pass ratio is the reason we lost the football game. We lost the football game because we didn’t execute well enough in the second half on either side of the ball.’’

Rivers completed 22-of-35 passes for 270 yards with a 49-yard touchdown to Zach Pascal and one interception. The run game finished with 127 yards on 28 carries.

Stat check

Rivers’ TD to Pascal was the 420th of his career. That tied Dan Marino for 5th-most in NFL history.

T.Y. Hilton had three receptions for 60 yards and pushed his career total to 9,333. That moved him past Raymond Berry (9,273) into 3rd place in team history. He trails Marvin Harrison (14,580) and Reggie Wayne (14,345).

Nyheim Hines finished with five receptions for 20 yards. He’s pulled in 165 receptions, which surpassed Marshall Faulk (164) for the most by a Colts running back and the 5th-most by a Colt in his first three seasons.

Also, with 10 tackles, Darius Leonard pushed his career total to 404 in 41 games. Since 1987, he’s the 10th player in NFL history to reach 400 in his first three seasons and tied Patrick Willis (41 games) as the 2nd-fastest to do so. Luke Kuechly reached 400 tackles in 39 games.

Injury update

Safety Khari Willis was ruled out in the second half with a concussion and left tackle Will Holden didn’t return in the fourth quarter with an injury to his right ankle.

Also, rookie wideout Michael Pittman Jr. was being evaluated after the game for a concussion.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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