INDIANAPOLIS — The numbers are not pretty.
In 36 games with Marlon Mack in the lineup since the 2017 draft, the Indianapolis Colts have averaged 120.3 yards per contest and 4.1 yards per attempt, according to longtime Indy beat writer Mike Chappell.
In six games without Mack during that same span, the numbers fall to 76.3 yards per game and 3.7 per attempts. And the Colts have lost five straight with the starting running back on the sideline.
That’s the challenge that awaits Indianapolis for Thursday’s AFC South showdown at the Houston Texans.
But Colts head coach Frank Reich is undaunted.
“I think you guys know how I feel about these things,” Reich said Monday at the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center. “I mean, really, in one sense, on a personal level, you care deeply about every person and injury, but I really don’t get caught up in them. I rely on the training staff.
“(General manager) Chris (Ballard) and I sit down at the beginning and end of each day and talk through what are the roster implications? That’s obviously very relevant to the discussion. So it is that contrast of you care really much, but we have to get the guys ready who can play. There is a real strong belief that the guys who can play can win. So I really don’t get caught up too much in it. I just think, ‘Who is going to be in there? Well, let’s roll.’”
At running back Thursday, the answer certainly includes Jonathan Williams and Nyheim Hines. And Jordan Wilkins is confident he’ll be ready to return from an ankle injury that kept him out of Sunday’s win against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Wilkins, however, was listed as “did not participate” in Monday’s practice. With the short week, Indianapolis is conducting walk-throughs ahead of the game against the Texans, and the injury report is an estimate of players’ availability for a full practice.
“It feels great,” Wilkins said of the ankle. “I’ve been doing a lot of rehab and treatment on it, but I feel good. Feel like I’ll be ready to go.”
Williams is coming off a career day with 116 yards against the Jaguars, and Hines scored his first touchdown of the season on a 7-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
The most likely scenario has Williams and Wilkins splitting the bulk of the carries against Houston.
Hines typically plays a third-down role for the Colts, but Reich suggested nothing is off the table this week.
“Jonathan and Jordan will kind of split that (featured) role,” Reich said. “But we love Nyheim running the ball as well. You guys have seen, we are not afraid to leave him in there on first and second down. There are times that we do that, and there are certain runs we want him in there on.
“So that is kind of a week-to-week, play-by-play situation. We will miss Marlon, obviously. He is having a great year, but I feel very confident in all three of those guys.”
Hines said Indianapolis will take its usual team approach to replacing Mack.
There should be plenty of snaps to go around for all three running backs.
“It’s an opportunity for each and every single one of us, and it’s a next-man-up mentality,” Hines said. “We’ve gotta be ready. Every week we prepare to carry the load. So it will be exciting to see what happens this week, and I know all three of us, without Marlon, we’re more than capable.”
Quenton Nelson missed a snap for the first time Sunday in his professional career, and Reich is feeling a little sick about it.
The left guard infamously lined up at full back for a third-and-goal snap from the 1-yard line early in the third quarter. His first career carry initially was ruled a touchdown, but a replay review proved he was stopped short of the goal line.
NFL rules require a lineman reporting as eligible to also report as eligible on the next play or come off the field for the ensuing snap.
Reich originally planned to hurry to the line of scrimmage and keep the same personnel on the field if Nelson’s run was unsuccessful. But the replay review caused him to rethink that strategy, and quarterback Jacoby Brissett threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Marcus Johnson with Nelson watching from the sideline.
“I didn’t think about him missing a snap,” Reich said. “I obviously knew (the rule). We were saying, ‘Hey, he’s got to come off the field.’ Yeah, after the fact, I wish he wouldn’t had to miss that snap, but it wasn’t intended to be like that.”
Ten players did not participate in Monday’s walk-through because of injury. It’s a group that bears close examination as the Colts lurch toward Thursday’s game.
Tight end Mo Alie-Cox (thumb), left tackle Anthony Castonzo (toe), tight end Eric Ebron (ankle), wide receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf), running back Marlon Mack (hand), safety George Odum (shoulder), cornerback Shakial Taylor (ankle), Wilkins (ankle), safety Khari Willis (concussion) and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (ankle) were the players on the sideline.
Only Mack and Willis have been ruled out for Thursday’s game.
Wide receiver Parris Campbell (hand) and cornerback Pierre Desir (hamstring) were listed as limited participants.