News & Analysis

Marlon Mack is stabilizing a previously inconsistent Colts backfield

By Ben Cooper
Jan 11, 2019
Indianapolis Colts Marlon Mack

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Since Joseph Addai’s 2007 campaign, the Indianapolis Colts have been vehemently searching for answers in their backfield. Donald Brown appeared to be the man for the job, but the former first-round pick never quite lived up to expectations in five years with the Colts. Then there was Brown, Trent Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw and Frank Gore — all temporary solutions to the revolving door in Indianapolis. But now, Marlon Mack has the reins as his team enters its Divisional Round showdown with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he’s proven he can be the one to break the mold.

Mack is putting up numbers that few Colts running backs have reached. Since at least 2006, no Colts running back with 150-plus attempts has a higher yards after contact average than Mack (3.04) — and that includes Addai, who had three 1000-yard seasons from 2006-2011. In the 2018 season alone (including playoffs), Mack’s 3.02 yards after contact average is the highest for a Colts running back since Donald Brown’s 2013 season (and since Mack himself recorded a 3.09 average just a season ago).

But aside from Mack being able to simply brute force his way past defenders, he’s been wildly efficient. His 58 first down runs in 2018 are the most by a Colts running back since Addai rumbled for 69 in 2007. And Addai accomplished that feat on 66 more carries than Mack currently has, so while Addai averaged a first down every 3.98 carries, Mack has done so every 3.77 carries. The difference between those averages appears insignificant, but NFL teams are well aware of how important even one extra first down is — and Mack is giving the Colts those drive extenders at an impressive rate.

And then there’s Mack’s ability to break away. A lot of what he’s been able to accomplish this year can be credited to a vastly improved front-five, which finished the regular season as PFF’s third-best offensive line. However, Mack’s 15 runs of 15 or more yards are the most by a Colts running back since at least 2006. In that year, the Colts had PFF’s fourth-ranked run blocking unit (83.0 grade), yet Addai managed only 12 runs of 15 or more yards on 303 carries. Mack accomplished his 2018 feat on just 219 attempts.

Despite Mack’s 70.8 overall grade through Wild Card weekend pitting him 34th among 59 running backs, he is exactly what the Colts need and have needed. A snapshot of the team’s past three years of run offense grades: 68.3, 56.5, 60.5. In 2018, they’ve graded out at 79.1 — their best mark since at least 2006 when PFF began grading.

It’s also worth noting that the Colts are 5-0 when Mack has rushed for 100-plus yards this season, which is to be expected. His success complements that of Andrew Luck’s — and it’s making for an offense that could become one of the NFL’s deadliest very soon.

All things considered, Mack is objectively the best running back the Colts have had in some time. And although those at the position rarely stay in the starting role with the same team for more than a few years, Mack might just be what Indianapolis needs to get past the prolific Kansas City Chiefs.

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