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Ben Smith

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Associated Press
The Colts are off to a 2-1 start thanks to a bruising offensive style that relies on running backs like Trent Richardson.

New style helps Colts

– The helmets are still white with a blue stripe. There’s still a horseshoe on either side. It’s still blue, too.

Yes, sir, Officer. I believe I can still pick the Indianapolis Colts out of this lineup here.

Second from the left. Tank treads for feet. Just ran over the San Francisco 49ers, who are lying back there on the center line, flatter than the aftermath of Squirrel vs. Peterbilt.

This is Ground Chuck (Pagano) or Post Time or the 56th Street Stampede we’ve got going here, and if the fingerprints of offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton are all over it, it was Pagano who first signed off on it. This has been his vision all along, these tougher, earthier, hit-you-in-the-mouth-ier Colts. It may be a quarterback’s league now, but the eternal verities remain.

You want to win in the NFL, you have to run the football and stop the run. Even now.

And so the Colts are 2-1 after doing both of the above in San Francisco, and they’re likely to be 3-1 after they finish with the barely upright Jacksonville Jaguars today. But it’s not like any 2-1 in recent memory – or even distant memory, if you want to go all the way back to Johnny Unitas, the seminal flinger in a franchise defined by flingers.

A fun fact, direct from the Twilight Zone: After three games, the Colts rank fourth in the NFL in rushing, with an average of 146.3 yards. They rank 26th – no, that’s not a typo – in passing, at 206.3 yards per game.

Just for comparison purposes, Andrew Luck had only five games last season in which he threw for fewer yards than that. He had only one game in which he threw fewer passes than he did last week (26) and zero games in which he threw for fewer yards (159).

And yet, the Colts ball-peened the Niners 27-7. So, yeah, this is working.

“Any time you can have the success that we had on the ground, and you have the runners that we have now, it’s just going to open up everything else,” Pagano said last week. “It’s going to help protect our quarterback. Guys are going to have to load the box up. Middle of the field is going to be closed, and you’re going to get some free access on the outside. It will help all the way around.”

It will certainly help Luck, who’s never been a stat guy anyway, and who’ll gladly trade numbers for fewer occasions when he’s lying on his back looking up at the sky. Sacked 43 times last year, he was sacked just once last Sunday.

“(And) it does help open up some of the (passing) lanes,” he says.

Plus, it’s fun.

“You can ask any offensive lineman and they’ll say the same thing,” tackle Anthony Castonzo says. “We love to run the ball and play that smash-mouth football, so the more we can do that, the better.”

It eats clock, for one thing. It keeps the opposing down seven honest. And it will ultimately make Luck, who threw 627 times last year and completed 54.1 percent of them, a more efficient if not a more prolific passer.

Plus … it’s fun.

“It’s great,” defensive end Cory Redding says. “It’s great to see that on defense.

“I’ve been a part of that, having the offense run the ball down your throat and you trying everything you can and you can’t stop it. So to see our offense go out there and execute the way they did last Sunday was great. Just looking forward to them doing it again.”

And again. And again. And again.

Ben Smith has been covering sports in Fort Wayne since 1986. His columns appear four times a week. He can be reached by email at bensmith@jg.net; phone, 461-8736; or fax 461-8648.

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