Dominant ground game shows Colts don't always need Andrew Luck

Mack takes it 20 yards to the house (0:20)

Marlon Mack outruns the Bills defense for a 20-yard touchdown, his second TD of the game. (0:20)

INDIANAPOLIS -- It looked like a simple fundamental play often taught in youth football.

A fake handoff to the running back to get the linebacker to commit to the line of scrimmage, which in turn opens up the field for a pass play.

It was that play when Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck faked a handoff to running back Marlon Mack, which caused the Buffalo Bills linebacker to come up in case Mack had the ball. Luck, surveying the field, found an open Erik Swoope down the middle for a 17-yard touchdown.

That playcall is routine for many teams in the NFL. The same can't be said when it comes to the Colts, because for so long -- especially during Luck's seven seasons -- they've been starving for a respectable running game.

For this afternoon, at least, the Colts were a dominant running team in their 37-5 victory against the Bills. The Colts rushed for 220 yards and had 156 yards passing.

Having more running yards than passing yard has been a foreign concept for the organization since Luck arrived. The 220 yards is the most Indianapolis has rushed for since gaining 205 yards against Tennessee on Dec. 18, 2011.

"It gives you a feeling of physical power, dominance," Colts coach Frank Reich said. "They certainly showed that against a really, really good [Buffalo] defense. This defense was ranked top 10 in every category. A hard defense to run the ball against. The O-line did a great job."

How unique was Sunday's performance by the Colts on the ground?

They've only had four games when a player has rushed for at least 100 yards in Luck's 77 games. Vick Ballard during Luck's rookie season in 2012. Frank Gore did it twice in 2016. And Mack seemed to find every crease and corner to rush for 126 yards on just 19 carries Sunday.

"It's a joy to watch, it's fun," Luck said. "To have a guy over 100 yards and have those positive, productive runs early, especially. First drive three-and-out and second drive, three-and-out as well. They were positive runs in those drives. Then it felt like the damn burst open at some point. It makes the quarterback's job simpler and easier."

Reich gives Luck plenty of control of the offense. The quarterback could have easily suggested to his coach that they throw more against a vulnerable secondary.


Luck often came to the sideline and suggested to his coach to "keep running it, keep running it."

It's not an ego thing for Luck. The Colts couldn't be stopped on the ground, and Luck wanted to continue pounding the ball down Buffalo's throat. That's easy to do when the offensive line is dominating the line of scrimmage against a team that entered Sunday eighth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed at 92.5 yards a game.

The Colts had nine rushes of at least 10 yards, including six of at least 15 on Sunday after entering the game with just 10 plays of at least 10 yards rushing in the first six games. It's easy to have big plays when guard Quenton Nelson, the No. 6 pick in the draft, is pulling and laying into Bills linebacker Matt Milano to give Mack an edge to run for 15 yards.

"It was awesome," Nelson said. "We had a great time out there. I think this week was really the first week we executed the game plan. We've had a great game plan each week in the run game, and this week [center] Ryan (Kelly) made great calls to make sure we were on the same page and executing and getting to right spots."

A consistent running game of Mack, Nyheim Hines (47 yards) and Jordan Wilkins (46 yards) will ease Luck's workload by not having him attempt 121 passes over a two-game stretch like he did in Weeks 4 and 5. It's also easier to manage third downs when the running game is working, because the Colts are less predictable in short-yardage situations.

"It's great, because Andrew is not keeping the ball in his hands," Colts tight end Eric Ebron said. "When you have the defensive ends and tackles that they have and to be able to impose the will in the running game, it helps everyone. It opens up the pass game, keeps Andrew up, keeps everyone healthy. And we're not out there running 95,000 yards on routes to make things happen."