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INDIANAPOLIS The team that has the mantra of ‘run the damn ball’ is sitting in the basement of the NFL when it comes to rushing yards per carry.

With a quarter of the 2020 season complete, it’s the Colts ranking 32nd in the NFL in rushing yards per carry (3.52 YPC).

Now, to be fair (and the Colts will let you know it), that number is a bit skewed thanks to how dominant the Colts have been in their three victories. But even if you take out those later-game situations, the Colts are still not at a level you would expect from a team loaded with high draft picks up front.

Fourth quarters of the Colts’ 3-1 start have largely been about milking the clock, with a heavy run-game focus and multi-score leads leading to loaded boxes from defenses, and several kneel downs to cap wins.

But well before the Colts have gotten to the point of finishing off these wins, they are struggling in the aspect of the offense that is supposed to be an unquestioned strength.

It has not been that in 2020, despite a healthy offensive line unit together for the first four games to start the year.

The Colts say they are pleased with their run blocking, but some key metrics would suggest that aspect of the offense needs improvement ASAP:

-When looking at the first half of games (when the four-minute offense isn’t in use and kneel downs aren’t as frequent), Colts running backs are averaging just 3.8 yards per carry. That mark would have slotted 26th in the NFL last season. So, even when those obvious rushing situations are not there in the first half, the Colts have still been very underwhelming in trying to establish a part of the game that Frank Reich is adamant needs to be in the top-5 of league rankings.

-A deeper dive into analytics indicates Colts running backs are spending way too much time behind the line of scrimmage—a sign that (potential) run holes are not as clear early in plays with the defense getting early penetration. There are 41 running backs in the NFL with at least 25 rush attempts after 4 weeks. This is where Colts running backs rank in the most time spent behind the line of scrimmage: Jordan Wilkins (3rd), Jonathan Taylor (15th). Nyheim Hines falls two rush attempts short of having enough carries to qualify, but he was ranking in the top-10 of this category entering Week 4. Simply, things are too crowded in the backfield, too early in plays, for this run game to be at a more adequate level.

-According to Football Outsiders, the Colts rank 28th in creating yards for their running backs this season, which is a major dip from where they were last season. Despite having yet to face a top-15 run defense this season, the Colts have particularly struggled in short-yardage situations this season, suffering from too many negative run plays, as well.

Pass protection has been really sound for the Colts in 2020, but it would be naïve to say the run blocking has been at a necessary level to make a run in January.

Entering this season, it was pointed out that even a significantly improved run game last season still failed when taking on top-flight run defenses.

So far, the Colts haven’t come close to meeting that 2019 level, and now they are facing their first potential injury situation to the starting offensive line, with Anthony Castonzo (ribs) missing Wednesday’s practice.

With the injuries at wideout and the desire not to put too much on the throwing plate of Philip Rivers, raised standards are there for the run blocking of the Colts.

It’s that decorated group with high draft picks and carrying the ‘run the damn ball’ mantra.

Competition is going to rise as the Colts move along in 2020, and that will only stress the need to become a better run blocking unit.

“We need to be a little bit more consistent and efficient in the run game,” Reich admits, “But as you guys know, the way the flow of some of these games is you get in four-minute situations and you get in some of the situations that we’ve gotten into where we’re calling runs at the end of the game – it’s not always the case but a lot of times you might not average as many yards. They know you’re running it, they know you’re trying to burn the clock so you are running into a heavy box. We’ve had games that we’ve been ahead. If my goal was yards per carry and yards per game, would I call the game differently? Yes, I would call the game vastly differently. But that’s not the goal, the goal is to win the game. You could do some more crazy things at the end of the game or even in the middle of the game, but that comes with a cost and a risk. So, that’s where you assess it as you go and you take those shots.

“As far as our run game, I’ve got so much confidence in what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with. So, I think over the course of 16 games we’re going to be happy with where we end up.”