INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Jordan Wilkins eagerly embraces playing a bigger role in the Indianapolis Colts’ offense.
The second-year running back is about to get his chance.
With Marlon Mack out indefinitely because of a fractured right hand, Wilkins and Jonathan Williams will share the bulk of the carries starting Thursday night at Houston.
“We have some great running backs around here, we just have to fill in,” Wilkins said Monday. “We’re confident.”
They should be given the Colts’ ability to overcome obstacles all season. The 33-13 victory over Jacksonville on Sunday was just the latest example.
Mack continually hurt Jacksonville’s defense, racking up 109 yards and one touchdown before hurting his hand on a 20-yard run in the third quarter. But when he left, the Colts stayed the course — even with Wilkins inactive because of an ankle injury.
They plugged in Williams, who had only 32 carries in his first 3½ seasons, and Williams responded by running for a career-high 116 yards on 13 carries. Indy (6-4) finished with 264 yards rushing, its highest total since 2004, and produced two 100-yard rushers for the first time since October 1985.
So when coach Frank Reich announced Monday that Mack already undergone a “procedure” on his hand, Reich didn’t even give a second thought about how the Colts cope without their top runner.
“More than likely that’s how it will play out, Jonathan and Jordan will split that role but we love Nyheim (Hines) running the ball, too,” he said. “We’ll miss Marlon. Obviously, he’s having a great year, but we like all three of those guys.”
Why change now?
Indy wouldn’t be here, tied for the AFC South lead with a chance to sweep the Texans and improve to 4-0 against division foes if it didn’t believe in its depth.
They’ve won this season despite Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement, despite losing four-time Pro Bowl receiver T.Y. Hilton for four games with assorted injuries, despite losing All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard for three games with a concussion and despite Adam Vinatieri’s kicking struggles.
So now, without their top runner, Reich believes the only real change will be the names. And Wilkins agrees.
“We’ll be ready,” he said. “It’s a big game because it’s a division opponent, but we’ve got to be ready for the whole 60 minutes.”
Scoring defense. The Colts are going old school with power-running and a defense with an aversion to allowing touchdowns. In the past six games, Indy has allowed nine touchdowns — including a 96-yard interception return at Pittsburgh and a meaningless score with 65 seconds left Sunday. Those teams have averaged 17.3 points and four of the six have scored 16 points or fewer.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Stretching the field. Jacoby Brissett isn’t asked to do a lot when the ground game works as well as it did against Jacksonville. But the Colts still need a deep threat, which has been a concern without Hilton or No. 2 receiver Devin Funchess, who hasn’t played since the season opener because of a broken collarbone. Losing No. 3 receiver Parris Campbell (broken hand) hasn’t helped. Brissett also sat out the second half at Pittsburgh and missed the Miami game before returning against the Jaguars.
Vinatieri. After spending last week dealing with more questions about errant kicks, Vinatieri had the perfect answer Sunday. He made all four extra points and a record-breaking field goal. The league’s career scoring leader (2,663 points) and all-time field goal leader (597) owns the career mark for most field-goal attempts (710), one more than Morten Andersen.
Mack. The Colts’ top back still needs 47 yards to reach a single-season career high and 138 yards for his first 1,000-yard season.
Funchess returned to practice last week and there was some hope Hilton would play against the Jags. Getting both back would help offset the loss of Mack. The Colts’ secondary is in flux, too, with rookie safety Khari Willis in the concussion protocol and rookie cornerback Rock Yak-Sin dealing with an injured left ankle.
73.0. That’s the per-game rushing average of the Colts’ past six opponents. The past three foes — Pittsburgh, Miami and Jacksonville — have run for a total of 189 yards. Indy hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 28 consecutive games.
Indy can reclaim sole possession of the AFC South lead and earn a key tiebreaker over the Texans if it can navigate through all these on a short week.