RB Jonathan Taylor: The unquestioned lifeblood to Colts’ 2021 success

Dec 23, 2021, 7:07 AM | Updated: 7:45 am

When you think of the Indianapolis Colts offense, running back Jonathan Taylor should be the first player to come to mind.

The running back has strung together an already impressive 2021 resume and now faces off against a reeling Arizona Cardinals rush defense that just watched an undrafted running back in the Detroit Lions’ Craig Reynolds put up more than 100 yards for the first time in his career.

To say the Cardinals will have their hands full is an understatement.

“He’s been tremendous,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said Tuesday. “However they utilize him, whatever style of run, if they get him involved in the screen game, he just seems to make big things happen. He’s definitely got to be up there in the top two, three for MVP from what I’ve seen.

“You’ve got to give a lot of credit to their offensive line, to their coaching staff, that group’s done a tremendous job. He can make things happen every time he touches the ball.”

With the NFL’s leading rusher heading to the Valley for the Christmas matchup, here’s a look at some of his standout stats from his 2021 campaign:

100 yards or bust

Let’s start with the obvious.

There might not be another NFL team whose success is directly correlated to a single player’s performance more than the Colts with Taylor.

In every game Taylor has put up at least 103 rushing yards, Indianapolis has come out the other end victorious. Taylor’s play has translated into a league-lead for rushing yards with 1,518, nearly a 500-yard lead over the Cincinnati Bengals’ Joe Mixon (1,094).

“This running game’s really good,” defensive coordinator Vance Joseph said Wednesday. “The back’s having great year … and when he’s playing good they win.

“So that’s our first issue to deal with is stopping him and the run game. … The run game is obviously what they do well and it’s gotta get stopped.”

But in the six matchups he was held to less than 100 yards, the Colts sport a dismal 0-6 mark.

Not treading lightly

After seeing at the most 19 carries over the first nine weeks of the season, the Colts have ridden the hot hand of Taylor a lot more recently.

In Weeks 10-14, Taylor posted just one game with less than 21 carries, a loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Outside of that defeat, the Colts have won every other meeting, including two 30-carry efforts in Week 11 and Week 13.

Over the course of the last five weeks, Taylor has amassed 130 carries for 697 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground as he shoulders more and more of the offensive load.

Obviously, the Colts are turning to what works. But too much of a good thing could come back to bite them later on in the year.

Just ask Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, who was averaging just north of 27.4 carries per game before being lost for the rest of the season with a foot injury.

He’s going streaking

While the Colts are certainly one of the hottest teams in football right now, their first three weeks looked anything but.

Taylor was not only held under 100 yards in the three defeats, he failed to find pay dirt.

Since then, however, Taylor has found the end zone in 11 straight contests, including five multi-touchdown efforts headlined by a five-score outing in a Week 8 loss to the Tennessee Titans.

His knack of scoring has led to an NFL-leading 19 total touchdowns, 17 on the ground and two through the air.

“He’s running really hard, he’s obviously physically talented, a fast guy. I’ve seen him play ever since college and I really think he’s coming into his own and he’s done a lot of great things this year,” defensive lineman Corey Peters said Tuesday.

Making every touch count

Through the first five weeks of the season, Taylor averaged more than 3.53 yards per carry just twice.

Since then, he hasn’t had a game under 4.38 yards per attempt, with seven games north of 5.19 yards per carry and two of at least nine.

Blowing the doors off

There has been no one better on the ground at producing big plays of at least 20 yards than Taylor.

The running back paces the NFL with 11 on the season. Second on the list is Cleveland Browns rusher Nick Chubb with nine.

Six of Taylor’s big plays have resulted in touchdowns, ranging from 21 to 78 yards.

His longest rush of the season currently sits at 83 yards.

“It’s so rare to see a back with his power and his vision, his foot quickness,” Joseph said. “But when he breaks and pops, no one can catch him. He’s a high school sprint champion from (New) Jersey. … It’s gonna be a challenge.”

A thirst for firsts

Taylor has picked up an impressive 93 first downs through 14 games, easily the top spot in the league.

The next closest position player is Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp at 75, while Washington Football Team’s Antonio Gibson is next closest running back with 58.

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RB Jonathan Taylor: The unquestioned lifeblood to Colts’ 2021 success