INDIANAPOLIS — It was the textbook definition of a balancing act.
Jonathan Taylor was on the field for 50% of the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive snaps Sunday against Cleveland — 35 of 70.
Ditto, Zack Moss.
Taylor had 18 rushes and added three receptions.
Moss matched the 18 attempts and had one reception.
But how much longer before the scales tip heavier in Taylor’s favor?
His 21 touches generated a season-high 120 yards and his first touchdown since late November. They included a 24-yard run and 20 and 19-yard receptions. Moss contributed a 21-yard burst.
Isn’t it time for more of Taylor, and less of Moss? And trust us, we’re not throwing shade at Moss.
“Yeah, we’ll continue to evaluate that,’’ Colts coach Shane Steichen said Monday afternoon.
In most scenarios, there would be no reason to overthink this.
Remember, Taylor is the NFL’s 2021 rushing champion who’s getting his legs back under him after missing the first four games of the season while completing his rehab from January surgery on his right ankle and his $42 million extension was being worked out.
That takes time, which is reflected in his snap count over his first three games: 15% against Tennessee, 42% at Jacksonville, 50% against the Browns.
Complicating the situation, though, has been Moss. Despite missing the season-opener while recovering from a broken forearm, the fourth-year back is the NFL’s second-leading rusher. His 523 yards, which already are a career high, trail only San Francisco’s Christian McCaffrey (553).
“Zack’s running really good, too,’’ Steichen said. “We feel that we have two really good backs.
“Obviously, Jonathan is a home run threat for us, and we’ll continue to evaluate it, but really like where both those two are at right now.’’
Taylor hasn’t publicly sought to resume his feature-back role.
We’ll just take that day-by-day.
That day should be imminent, Moss’ solid start to the season notwithstanding.
Pro Bowl center Ryan Kelly has watched as Taylor handled the business side of the NFL, and as he’s been eased back into the offense.
“The other side of the business is contracts,’’ he said after Sunday’s 39-38 loss to the Browns. “You don’t play this game for free. It takes a lot from you.
“To see him work through that and get back in, give him a couple of handles here and there, and to really get him back, I think it’s awesome. When he got the touchdown, the whole place erupted, and so did we. You can see the fire in him. The passion is still there and it always will be.’’
The threat Taylor brings also is there. The more touches he’s given, the more opportunities for something to happen.
His relentless style was on display after kicker Dustin Hopkins’ 54-yard field goal gave Cleveland a 30-21 lead at the 9:23 mark of the third quarter.
The Colts’ four previous possessions consisted of 11 plays and 1 yard. There was the end-zone sack/fumble/touchdown of Gardner Minshew II, two three-and-outs and Minshew’s interception.
After Minshew kick-started the next eight-play drive with a 20-yard reception to a diving Josh Downs, the Colts followed Taylor’s lead. He carried six times for 30 yards, capped by a 5-yard TD up the middle, and added a 20-yard catch-and-run with a screen.
“If (the Colts) need me this series, if you need me this play, you just let me know,’’ Taylor told reporters in the locker room. “I’ll do my best to make it happen.’’
Steichen has only scratched the surface on how to maximize Taylor’s skills.
*took three direct snaps out of the wildcat formation.
*had the 20-yard reception on a screen to the left.
*had the 19-yarder on a wheel route to the left against linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah that ended with him securing Minshew’s pass before safety Juan Thornhill whacked him.
*took a pitch to the right for 24 yards.
At Jacksonville, he was split out wide right, ran a shallow crosser and turned it into a 40-yard gain.
“With Shane’s playbook, he can call anything,’’ Taylor said.
About those coverage flags
Steichen declined to elaborate on two critical/controversial coverage penalties against cornerback Darrell Baker Jr. in the final minute of Sunday’s loss. The first was for illegal contact against Amari Cooper and the second for interfering with Donovan Peoples-Jones in the end zone, giving the Browns a first-and-goal at the 1.
But Steichen’s response seemed to indicate he wasn’t in total agreement.
“I mean, they were tough calls,’’ he said. “I’m not going to get into a lot of the officials on that situation. As a team, we’ve got to do better to not put ourselves in those situations at the end of games, not leave it up to those things at the end.
“Tough calls. They made ‘em, and that’s what it was. We’ve got to move on and learn from them.’’
Teams routinely send video clips to NFL headquarters each week seeking clarification on specific plays. Will those find their way to New York?
“We’ll look at those things,’’ Steichen said. “Every week we send in certain things.’’
And those two calls will be included?
“Maybe,’’ he said with a smile.
Steichen insisted the Colts have confidence in Baker, who might have to handle an extensive role if rookie cornerback JuJu Brents misses time with a quadriceps injury. Baker started the first two games before being benched.
“Yeah, DJ has done a good job,’’ Steichen said. “He had a good training camp. JuJu is down, DJ step up and play that role and keep working every week and getting better.’’’
Michael Pittman Jr. finished with two receptions, 83 yards and a 75-yard TD that gave the Colts a 38-33 lead with 5:38 remaining in the fourth quarter. He wanted more. Certainly more than his five targets, which tied a season-low.
“They just didn’t target me today, for whatever reason,’’ Pittman told Indystar’s Nate Atkins after the game. “Maybe I’m not a big part of the offense.
“When I do get the ball, I feel like I always do something with it. Just know that I’m viable to break off a big one in any situation versus any team. I’m just trying to show the coaches that I’m out there, too.’’
It was a strange reaction in the wake of Steichen utilizing a run-heavy attack that piled up season-highs in points (38) and yards (456) against the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense. Minshew dropped back just 27 times while the Colts ran the ball 40 times. Only Josh Downs had more targets (six) than Pittman.
On the season, Pittman leads the Colts in targets (65), receptions (42) and yards (489). Downs’ 47 targets are next.
“Well, I think Pittman, he is part of this offense, and he’s the ultimate competitor,’’ he said. “I think when really good players … they want the ball and they express their feelings sometimes.
“That’s part of this league, and we are going to do everything in our power to continue to get him the football moving forward.’’
Along with Brents, defensive tackle Eric Johnson II left Sunday’s game (ankle). Steichen wasn’t able to provide an update on either.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.