By Todd Golden
St. Louis — Donald Brown vs. Joseph Addai ... is it time for the debate over who should shoulder the Indianapolis Colts’ running load to begin?
If Sunday was the time for the debate, it was over by technical knockout in the second quarter of the Colts’ 42-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. On Brown’s second run from scrimmage, he strained his left shoulder. He did not return and was not on the sideline during the second half.
To that point, however, Brown was doing his talking in the Colts’ running back debate with his legs ... and the rookie from Connecticut was very persuasive.
Brown rushed for 58 yards — on just two carries. One run was a 45-yard scamper, the longest of the season for the Colts.
Truth be told, Brown has been getting it done all season as the Colts have used him to spot starter Addai, especially in situations where Brown’s quickness can be used to the Colts’ advantage. Brown averaged 3.5 yards per carry going into the game against the Rams, just a shade over Addai’s 3.4 average. Brown’s average ballooned to 4.6 per carry after his truncated Sunday stint.
Brown can also be a potent option in the passing game. He’s made seven catches for 138 yards, a cool 19.7 yards per catch.
So far, the Colts have been perfectly happy to have Brown as part of a two-back package. For his part, Brown doesn’t expect it to change.
“I just want to contribute in any way possible. The two-back system adds a dimension to our offense and makes us more potent. It’s a great attribute to have,” Brown said.
The debate, if there’s to be one, isn’t really about who starts.
The Colts so deftly use their offensive personnel when their talents warrant it in the game that starting at most positions is not really important so long as players see the field. And its clear that both Addai and Brown should both still be seeing the field.
The debate is more about how and when Brown is used.
Addai was OK on Sunday, but just OK. He rushed for 64 yards but averaged 3.2 yards per carry, not outstanding by any means, and he had just one catch.
Addai seemed to have trouble hitting holes provided by the Colts’ offensive line, a pattern that’s been evident throughout the season. There were a few plays where it seemed Addai wasn’t in sync with his blockers on the outside. On the other hand, Addai would seemingly be more adept than Brown at grinding out yards.
The debate is this — do the Colts choose to give Brown more carries? Do they choose to let him string together a few series in a row to see if he can maintain the explosiveness he’s had in short bursts? Can Brown consistently hit holes Addai seems to inconsistently hit at the moment? These are all questions that run through one’s mind when Brown is showing what he can do on the field.
Conversely, would more responsibility be a case of too much be too soon for Brown? The rookie has a smaller body than Addai, would additional punishment negate the effect he has on the offense right now and take away his explosiveness? It’s a legitimate concern.
This is the way the debate should be framed ... one that Colts coach Jim Caldwell has to consider as the 6-0 Colts continue to hone what is already a diamond-star-rated offense into, well, an even shinier diamond.
“Donald has done something that I think is highly unusual with young guys; he continues to improve. Oftentimes you will see them plateau a little bit, but he hasn’t done that yet,” Caldwell said. “It is important, especially for a young player, that you show improvement each week and he does that.”
The running back debate might be moot pending the outcome of Brown’s shoulder strain, but the injury — Brown said he just fell on it and he’d be “all right” after the game — is only delaying the inevitable.
Whether it’s now or in the near future, the Brown-Addai debate is going to come to a head. That can only be good for the Colts, as “debates” over depth are the kind that any team hopes to have.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org