INDIANAPOLIS — Jonathan Taylor leads the NFL in rushing yards and Pro Bowl votes, and he’s making a strong case to be the first non-quarterback to be named MVP since Adrian Peterson in 2012.
But Carson Wentz might well be the Indianapolis Colts’ most important player Sunday.
The Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers run “heavy” boxes — with eight or more defenders in the front — more than any other team in the NFL. And they have seven-time world champion Tom Brady pulling the levers for an offense full of weapons.
The odds Wentz will need to make some big plays in the passing game are high.
“He’s definitely got the playmaking ability in him,” Colts offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said. “He made some tough throws early in the game (Sunday against Buffalo). No weather issues, he drove us right down the field, made some nice passes. (He) had a guy in his face and completed that one to Pitt (Michael Pittman Jr.) across the middle. That big-time run, people forget that scramble that he made. That was a huge play for us on third down. That was when the game was 14-7, I believe.
“Third-and-long, they stop us there, and we’re in a tight ballgame. He converts that, and we’re about to drive down the field. I think we got three points out of that drive. But plays like that, he still has the capability of doing, and we have that offense where we feel like we could change it up if we feel like we’re running that day or the pass is going well. We feel like we have that ability to do both.”
The play Brady referenced came on third-and-10 at the Bills’ 48-yard line with 6:01 remaining in the first half. The quarterback came under heavy pressure in the pocket, ducked out of a sack and then ran 18 yards for a first down. It led to a Michael Badgley field goal and a 17-7 lead.
And when Buffalo fumbled away the ensuing kickoff, Taylor added a 2-yard touchdown run that broke the game open.
Wentz’s raw numbers from that game were pedestrian. He finished 11-of-20 for 106 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions. But Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich said the quarterback graded out with an A+.
Four of the incompletions were on intentional throwaways, and Wentz did a good job of getting the Colts into the right play calls against the league’s top-ranked defense.
He also had a front-row seat for Taylor’s five-touchdown showcase.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to do that,” Wentz said. “To win a game and not have a lot asked of you, to turn around and give it to 2-8 and him just do his thing time and time again, it was a lot of fun. Some people might say it’s boring, but I had a lot of fun back there. I came in Monday morning feeling pretty good. It’s definitely unique (winning with 100 passing yards).
“Every game is different. Sometimes we’re gonna have to throw for 400. Sometimes we’re gonna have to throw for 100. That’s just the way it goes. We had a lot of fun getting it done out there on Sunday.”
The key for the Colts (6-5) is adaptability.
The offense has ridden Taylor’s hot hand for the past three weeks with very good reason. In the past three weeks, he has 72 carries for 473 yards and seven touchdowns.
But defenses are certain to adjust, and Tampa Bay (7-3) is well-positioned to slow down the run. The Buccaneers are ranked No. 1 in the league with 784 rushing yards allowed and are No. 2 with an average of 3.8 yards per carry.
Tampa Bay can be had through the air, ranking 17th with 2,437 passing yards allowed.
“I really think if you want to win it all, you have to be able to do that,” Reich said. “There’s exceptions to that, like there is everything. … When you can win like we did this past week, that’s a statement. I just think that’s a statement. There’s not many teams in the NFL I think can win a game in that fashion. So that’s a carrying card, if you will — or whatever the right way to say that is — but if that’s all you have, it’s not — as good as Jonathan Taylor is, if that’s all we’ve got, it’s probably not going to be enough. It’s just not the way this game is.
“You have have to be able to make plays in the passing game. And, thankfully, (we’ve) got a lot of confidence in our guys, in our quarterback and then our skill guys. So this will likely be a week that we have to do both. This is the No. 1 run defense (in Tampa Bay). We’re certainly not planning on abandoning the run, but we also understand that it probably at the end of the day will be a more balanced game than it was last week.”