Manning content to let his running backs carry Colts' load

INDIANAPOLIS -- Peyton Manning reveled in his new role last weekend -- spectator.

He would play it every week if he could.

Manning, the NFL's mind-game master, understands it will take more than a strong right arm and one good game to reach a third Super Bowl. Indy needs more balance and consistency on offense, too.

"It was really fun to watch," Manning said Wednesday, three days after Indy ran over the Giants. "You hand off and you're supposed to be carrying out your fake, but when you all of the sudden see (Joseph) Addai going for 10 yards, 15 yards, it's kind of hard not to watch."

It's a rare admission for a man who never seems to stop thinking about football long enough to savor a single moment.

But Manning had good reason to enjoy his breaks Sunday. The Colts ran 43 times for 160 yards, incredibly high numbers given the franchise's recent trend.

Since 2006, the Colts (1-1) have become increasingly reliant on Manning's arm.

The Colts have thrown 2,477 times out of 4,151 offensive plays, or 59.7 percent. All but 96 of those passes came out of Manning's right hand.

Opponents, meanwhile, have taken a different tack. They threw on 2,018 of 3,997 plays, or 50.5 percent of the time -- it's the one missing ingredient Manning would like to put back in Indy's offense.

"It (running the ball) makes the quarterback's job easier, it makes the play-caller's job easier," he said. "You know you don't have to dial up creative ways to get yards and to get first downs when you're going first down, second down, first down with the same running play. It makes a lot of jobs easier."

Or tougher, depending on the job.

"If they're going to pass the ball 50-some times a game, they're going to have their shots," Broncos safety Brian Dawkins told reporters during a conference call. "But if you have to defend both, that makes for a long, long day."

If the Colts' didn't understand the philosophy before this season, they certainly get it now.

Indy's defense struggled to get off the field at Houston because last season's top passing offense gashed the Colts for 257 yards on 42 carries. Even Manning couldn't outdo that. He was 40 of 57 for 433 yards with three touchdowns, setting career-highs for completions and attempts, but the Colts lost 34-24.

Last weekend, the Colts did a reversal. Against the Giants, Manning was 20 of 26 for 255 yards and three touchdowns, but the 43 carries gave the Colts an advantage of more than 11 minutes in possession time.

The result: Indianapolis 38, New York 14.

"We certainly would love to have that kind of balance each and every week, but every week is a little different," coach Jim Caldwell said. "It depends on how the opponent decides to play the game. We may strive to have as much balance as we would like to have had in that game, but chances are there may be a little compromise between the extremes."

Part of the problem in the past few seasons has been a lack of productivity.

The Colts haven't had a 1,000-yard runner since 2007, haven't topped more than 4.0 yards per carry since 2004 and were the league's worst running team in 2009.

Broncos coach Josh McDaniels thinks it's all by design.

"I'm of the mindset that they really do everything well, it's just a matter of what they choose to do," McDaniels said. "People say they were in the bottom five in rushing last year, and I say that's because they chose to be. They run the ball very well if you don't play the run well."

And the Colts defense would really like to see a strong ground game this weekend.

Yes, Indy has won seven of the past nine games against Denver, but it must deal with the potential pitfalls of playing in the Mile High City. To counter the altitude, players say they will run extra wind sprints during practice and drink more water before kickoff.

The big winner, though, may be whichever team is more efficient on the ground.

"We have oxygen at the home place, too, but there's nothing you can do about a 15-play drive," defensive captain Gary Brackett said. "If you have a 15-play drive, you're going to be tired, regardless of where you play."

One possible problem this week could be injuries.

Addai didn't practice Wednesday because of an undisclosed knee injury and left tackle Charlie Johnson sat out with a sprained right foot.

Yet Manning understands how criticial the ground game will be to Indy and its passing game, which is why he hopes the Colts are even better at Denver.

"It was an excellent job in the run game on Sunday, but you want it to be a consistent thing and not an every other week thing," he said. "I think the way it went last week would be more of the goal, more run than pass, which I'd say has been pretty rare around here. But 26 pass attempts compared to 57, that usually means you're scoring more points and being more effective."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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