Hyperbole or not, Magic Johnson said he could tell opponents every play his Los Angeles Lakers team would run and, if executed correctly, no defense could stop it.
If the Indianapolis Colts feel the same way about their running game these days, they couldn’t be blamed. Not with the success that second-year running back Jonathan Taylor is enjoying as the new league leader in rushing.
Fresh off becoming the 16th player in NFL history to score five touchdowns in a game, Taylor leads Indianapolis into an opportunity for a fourth straight win Sunday when they host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Taylor destroyed the Buffalo Bills last week to the tune of 185 yards and four scores while adding his fifth touchdown on a pass reception. The 41-15 blowout was old-school football at its best, the Colts (6-5) controlling the game because they could run and stop the run.
Indianapolis coach Frank Reich said his team gave him confidence to keep calling running plays, even as Buffalo regularly stacked the box with eight defenders.
“What you have to count on is creating some softness inside,” Reich said. “Chances of creasing something maybe are lower – you still could, you still can, but you still can get push. That’s what I saw. That’s what gave me confidence to kind of keep calling runs even against a heavy box.
“In a lot of scenarios with all the eight-man boxes we were getting, I might have been tempted to call a few more passes to kind of soften that up a little bit, but what I kept seeing was a surge by our O-line. That kind of gave us the confidence to keep calling it.”
How good was the Colts’ line?
Taylor averaged nearly five yards on 11 attempts when the Bills placed eight defenders inside the box. That doesn’t include plays in goal-to-go situations when defenses routinely play eight or more players inside the box.
This week could create a fascinating contrast in styles. While Indianapolis is going to run the ball and then use its threat to set up passing opportunities, Tampa Bay (7-3) is going to throw to set up an occasional running play.
Then again, with Tom Brady at quarterback, why would Tampa hand off 40 times a game? Brady was 30 for 46 for 307 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Buccaneers’ 30-10 rout of the New York Giants on Monday night.
It was a solid all-around performance for Tampa Bay after consecutive losses against New Orleans and Washington. Ten different players caught passes, while the defense allowed only 215 total yards, limiting New York to 3.6 yards per pass attempt.
And the Buccaneers cut out the mistakes that plagued them in consecutive losses with just six penalties. Half of them were pre-snap fouls, the kind that a veteran offense with a Hall of Fame-bound quarterback can easily erase.
“This is what we’re capable of,” said coach Bruce Arians.
Tampa Bay is aiming to maintain or extend a two-game lead on New Orleans in the NFC South, while the Colts are hoping to cut into Tennessee’s two-game advantage in the AFC South.