INDIANAPOLIS – The problem with establishing high standards? Matching or exceeding them year after year.
That’s the case for Quenton Nelson and the Indianapolis Colts’ running game.
Nelson, the 6th overall pick in the 2018 draft, is the first player in franchise history and just the seventh in NFL history to be selected first-team All-Pro in each of his first two seasons. The lofty company he’s in includes Hall of Famers Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson, Lawrence Taylor and Earl Campbell.
But it’s not a stretch is describe Nelson’s third season as un-Nelson-like. He’s been penalized a league-high six times for holding, including one negated by offsetting penalties against Green Bay.
The Packers’ game was particularly out of character for Nelson. Along with the one flag that was picked up, there were two others for holding that weren’t.
Nelson was limited in practice prior to Sunday’s loss to Tennessee with back and ankle injuries, but he insisted Thursday, “I feel fine, ready to go against the Texans this week.
“Just preparing every day, ready to go.’’
Players generally are their own worst critic, and Nelson is no exception.
“There has been some good, there has been some bad,’’ he said of his performance this season. “I definitely need to be better, and that’s just what I’m working on this week . . . really focusing on my fundamentals and technique.
“I definitely need to be better, and that’s what I’m working on this week.’’
Coach Frank Reich hasn’t detected much, if any, slippage in Nelson’s game.
“Quenton is playing really good in both the run and the pass,’’ he said. “The hold calls, they’re going to come.
“Overall, if you look at Quenton’s grade – if we’re running 65, 70 plays a game – if you look at his grade for the entirety of the game, he’s been playing very good football.’’
As for the Colts’ running game, it hasn’t approached the high level it achieved last season. Remember 2019? Indy ranked 7th in rushing – 133.1 yards per game, 4.5 per attempt – and the 2,130 yards were the 9th-most in franchise history.
As they head into a critical Sunday meeting with the Texans in Houston, the Colts take with them a run game that ranks tied-21st in yards per game (104.4) and 31st in yards per attempt (3.7.)
“Definitely not to our standard as an o-line,’’ Nelson said. “I think there has been times where we’ve shown we can do it. We know we can do it because we’ve done it before.
“It’s all about trusting it and working hard as five, working hard as one, seeing it all through one set of eyes and going out there and getting five guys on their five guys. We look forward to doing that this week, another opportunity to do that.’’
The run game was limited to 56 yards on 21 attempts Sunday as Tennessee bolted to a 35-14 halftime lead. But in the previous four games, it showed signs of coming around: averages of 126 yards per game and 4 yards per attempt.
The loss of Marlon Mack in the season opener with a ruptured Achillies tendon can’t be overstated. That thrust rookie Jonathan Taylor into a more substantial role that anticipated. He’s the team’s leading rusher with 518 yards on 135 attempts.
“Everyone has to adjust to the NFL, and I think Jonathan has done a really good job with that,’’ Nelson said. “I think he’s really done a fine job stepping in as a rookie.
“I’m really excited to have him back this week and five more weeks to the season. Let’s see what we can do.’’
Taylor missed the Titans game after being placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list as a “high-risk’’ individual. He returned to the active roster Wednesday.
The Texans would seem to offer an opportunity for the Colts to get their run game going. Their run defense is among the NFL’s worst: 31st in yards per game (154.7) and 32nd in yards per attempt (4.9).
Quarterback Philip Rivers returned to practice on a limited basis Thursday after being held out of Wednesday’s work as he continues to deal with an injury to his right big toe. He suffered the injury Nov. 22 against the Packers.
Rivers admitted he’s experiencing soreness, and it was “pretty sore’’ after the Titans game. Obviously, limited practice or taking a day off helps ease the pain.
Nelson, though, seemed to add context to Rivers’ injury.
He mentioned he’s been impressed with Rivers’ dedication to the game and his toughness, adding Rivers is “playing with a really bad problem with his foot.’’
T.Y.: needing more ‘touches?’
This wasn’t exactly Keyshawn Johnson screaming Throw me the damn ball! Far from it.
But it’s clear T.Y. Hilton believes he remains a viable option as the Colts head into a December that will determine whether they return to the playoffs. That’s especially true whenever the offense struggles.
“Yeah, that’s what I’m here for, to make plays,’’ he said. “Especially when we’re losing, I know the team feeds off my energy and my playmaking ability.
“So find ways to get me the ball and try to swing the momentum back our way. I’m a playmaker, so the more touches I get the more plays I make.’’
Hilton has been targeted 55 times in 10 games, tied with running back Nyehim Hines for the most among Rivers’ targets.
Hilton is mired in the quietest season of his nine-year career: 33 catches, 408 yards, one touchdown. He’s failed to hit 100 yards in his last 23 games, including the postseason.
However, Hilton is coming off his best game of the season – four catches, 81 yards, his first TD against the Titans – and, well, it’s Houston Texans week.
Here’s our yearly reminder of how Hilton has absolutely owned the Texans.
In 17 games against Houston, which includes one playoff game, he has 90 receptions, 1,622 yards and 10 TDs. Hilton has been downright lethal in nine appearances in Houston: 49 catches, 1,036 yards, seven TDs. He’s exploited the Texans’ secondary for games of 223, 199, 175 and 121 yards, all in Houston.
Hilton downplayed Sunday’s return to Houston.
“It’s a division game,’’ he said. “It is what it is.’’
Why so many big games in Houston?
“The ball is coming my way,’’ he said. “I was able to make plays. Just gotta find a way to keep it going.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.