This Sunday Colts fans got their long-awaited look at Vick Ballard who started in place of the injured Donald Brown. Fans have routinely panned Donald Brown and Joe Addai before him for their lack of productivity. Ballard's approach is very powerful in contrast to the slashing style favored by both Brown and Addai. Naturally fans assumed this would lead to a better run game between the tackles.
It didn't: Ballard carried the ball eight times for 25 yards. He averaged a measley 3.1 yards per carry while busting a long run of five yards, both well below Brown's year so far.
So what gives? Is Brown better than Ballard? Is the Colts offensive line that bad? Are the Jets the second coming of the 2000 Ravens?
The answers were found in the game film of course.
First, Ballard had a decent day despite what the stats say. It's debatable if that means he's better or worse than Donald Brown but one thing is evident: the coaching staff has given up on the right side of the offensive line. Against the Jets the Colts ran Ballard exclusively behind the left side or between the tackles. Not once did Ballard attempt to run to the right. While there were no big gains there were also no losses. Ballard finished the day making positive yards on each of his eight carries. In fact the only negative rushing attempt from the running backs came on a Mewelde Moore loss of three yards on the left side of the line. Likewise the only attempt to the right side came on a Moore rush as well. In total the Colts ran 14 of 15 rushing attempts with running backs to the left or up the gut. In that light it's clear the coaching staff simply learned their lesson and have given up trying to run behind the porous right side of the line. This certainly helped Ballard as it would any of the running backs.
Second, the tape and play selection clearly illustrates the offensive line is really bad. The Jets were in the bottom five in run defense before the game and the Colts managed just 42 yards. In addition to poor run blocking they gave up four sacks. The Colts started calling more low-risk plays and as a result became quite predictable. The Jets capitalized on this and simply devoured running backs in obvious running situations.
Are the Jets better than we thought against the run? Once again you don't have to watch Jeff Linkebach's upright blocking style to know he's going to get flatfooted or pancaked. There aren't many stats we need to know that the Jets, one of the worst teams against the run, were still simply too much for the Colts.
Will fans give Ballard, or any Colts running back for that matter, the fair shake and judge them based on more than the box score? Time will tell but Sunday's performance was far from a referendum on Ballard but rather a harsh indictment of an offensive line bound to disappoint fans throughout the year.
One of the more telling clues of how weak our run game is the third and short formation that we use either with a back at Luck's side for blocking -or empty backfield. Carter seems to be very tenative now, thinking maybe he will be banished if he ever fumbles again. But this was his first action after being hurt and punished for fumbling-He certainly has shown more power and strength than Brown. Brown's speed is suited well for the open field or running with a fullback like last year, sure is not very durable-maybe that is why he cannot block a wind. Hope Ballard can show more-it was his first.
Yeah, the OL was bad, but I wasn't impressed by Ballard at all on his starting debut. He impressed me with the aggression with which he runs, but his vision was poor, and he wasn't particularly quick. That being said, Carter looked worse, IMO.
Unfortunately, this O-line will not allow us to make any fair judgement on any of our running backs. That Ballard was able to get positive yards is a good thing. I still like Carter, for the most part. That being said, we need Donald back in the lineup. He is still the only back that threatens to break one and get behind past the defense. Although, if the offensive play-calling becomes predictable, this conversation on "who's the best/worst back?" becomes useless.
I think being productive as a running back on a "bad" team is the hardest thing to do. (MJD with the Jags not withstanding, as they seemed built for no other purpose than to give the Manning led Colts fits, but no one else.)
A QB is as much responsible for his protection as the line and can somewhat display his skills by scrambling or getting rid of the ball very quickly. A WR or TE... well they really just need for 3 or 4 plays a game to go their way and they can put up some good numbers.
But a running back is at the mercy of so many more variables. (Most completely ouf of his control.) The situation, the play call, the play call of the defense and of course the blocking. Perhaps the great Barry Sanders could sometimes make something out of nothing, but mere mortals need a lot of help.
It is why, per my eye test, that i think Donald Brown has actually played pretty damn well over the last year and a half. And it is why, I completely agree with you that there is a lot more to judging a running back's skills or at least his effectiveness, than looking at a box score.