The trajectory of Indianapolis’ 2019 season can be mapped alongside the participation of Marlon Mack.
The Colts‘ performance dropped sharply without the running back, who missed two games with a broken hand. Those two contests resulted in losses that kicked off a four-game skid that all but ended Indianapolis’ postseason hopes.
Colts general manager Chris Ballard attempted in April to prevent an injury-driven downturn from happening again, spending the 41st-overall selection on Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor. Some wondered whether the pick would call into question Mack’s future with the Colts. That isn’t the case, according to offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni, who sees a running back room with two equal contributors.
“We know a lot of the good running teams in this league and in the past have good 1-2 punches,” Sirianni said during a Monday conference call with reporters. “It feels like it’s just a 1-1 punch though, because we have two exceptional backs.
“We’ve seen it work in the NFL so much where you have different styles of guys, right? Both of these guys can do multiple things. Yeah, Jonathan’s a little bigger than Marlon, but they both have exceptional speed. They both have ability to make you miss, and they both have ability to break arm tackles and run with power.
“They have some different running styles but again, I think they’re both complete backs and I think that’s a fantastic problem to have, to have two guys like that you can feed the football to. It’s only going to help our running game.”
Having two talented backs, as Sirianni described, makes the season much easier to navigate, especially when you know the power element of your ground game isn’t solely dependent upon one person. Had Mack been available, perhaps the Colts don’t lose a close one to Houston in Week 12, and maybe they find a way to keep pace with the red-hot Titans in Week 13. The what-if game can change plenty for a revisionist with a fresh pen, of course, but Taylor’s college career — one jam-packed with production — is legitimate cause for excitement. It’s easy to sense in Sirianni’s words.
The Colts have a quality pass-catching option out of the backfield as well in Nyheim Hines. Sirianni reflected on his time with the Chargers and the success Danny Woodhead enjoyed there while part of a loaded backfield, which included Melvin Gordon, Donald Brown and Branden Oliver. The coordinator said he can envision something similar happening with Hines, who now can enjoy playing in the shadows while opposing defenses tilt toward attempting to contain Mack and Taylor. A loaded box might sound appetizing to those waiting for Philip Rivers to connect with T.Y. Hilton, Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman Jr. — oh, and Hines, too.
Adding another reliable, dangerous running back can do that much for an offense. A 1-1 punch doesn’t sound too bad, especially for a team that lacked a strong right down the stretch in 2019.