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INDIANAPOLIS – Pinpointing why the Colts all of a sudden found rare run game success against a stout Dallas run defense can go to two names that were no longer standing on the sidelines in street clothes

The Colts rushed for 178 yards on 39 carries against the Cowboys, easily the most that Dallas has given up all season long.

That output was made possible with the Colts having Ryan Kelly (sprained MCL) and Mo Alie-Cox (calf) back on Sunday for the first time in three games.

With that duo out of the lineup for games against the Dolphins, Jaguars and Texans, the Colts averaged just 3.22 yards per carry, good for the second worst mark in the league during that three-week stretch.

There’s no question that the returns of Kelly and Alie-Cox this past Sunday aided the Colts big day on the ground.

Kelly was probably the most noticeable in the run game, often climbing to the second level to allow for Marlon Mack’s career-best 139-yard afternoon.

“In the run game, I thought he was really effective in finishing,” former Colts’ great Jeff Saturday said of Kelly getting back to playing against Dallas. “He bends well, much better this year than the past two years, in my opinion. What I mean that by that is his leverage point is really good. He’s underneath guys, moving guys backwards, moving guys sideways, as opposed to just stalemates. That’s been an improvement that I’ve seen this year as opposed to the prior two years. Before the (sprained MCL), he was really rolling. To come back off the injury (Sunday), it was like he didn’t miss a beat. Really proud of him for what he’s doing and what he’s doing for the rest of the line because he brings a level of nastiness and attitude in there that you really want at that offensive line position.”

Before Kelly’s injury, the Colts often believed their center was playing at a Pro Bowl level.

The numbers back up how much Kelly means to the Colts.

With Kelly in the lineup this season, they are averaging 4.47 yards per carry. Without him, that number dips to 3.22 yards per carry.

With Kelly playing, the Colts haven’t allowed a sack in 6 straight games.

“Ryan is a difference maker,” Andrew Luck said after Sunday’s shutout win over the Cowboys. “He’s an elite center. He’s an elite offensive lineman in this league.”

A few spots over from Kelly on Sunday, the Colts were using Alie-Cox in a huge role.

Alie-Cox played 40 snaps on Sunday, logging more time on the field than Eric Ebron, as the Colts tried to have their young tight end taking on the role normally carved out for Jack Doyle.

“Mo is a damn statue,” Ebron said on Sunday. “It’s hard to move somebody that big and that strong. It’s crazy that he’s a basketball player. It’s good to have him back. He was out there moving people. He did a great job.”

The coaching staff saw improvements in Alie-Cox’s blocking back in October, thus giving him more and more playing time, even when Doyle and Ebron were both playing.

“He just has the natural physical traits for it,” Reich says of Alie-Cox handling a heavy in-line blocking burden. “He’s long and he’s a little thicker too than some of these basketball-player types that make the transition. He’s just a big man. He’s got some girth to him as well. He’s got the structure.

“I give Chris Ballard a lot of credit because Mo was one of Chris’ guys. He’s a guy that Chris had his eyes on and then the coaches that have worked with him – (tight ends coach) Tommy Manning has obviously done a real good job with Mo this year. But most of the credit just goes to Mo. Mo is one of those players you want on your team. He works hard. He’s got the right attitude and he’s very talented.”

On the stat sheet, and in the fantasy football world, Marlon Mack got the headlines on Sunday, but don’t forget about these two when praising what the Colts did in the run game.

“It’s no accident you run for that many yards when those two guys are back,” Luck says.

“It was a good group effort on the ground, certainly.”

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