FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — For the most part, the numbers composing the Colts' regular-season statistical rankings on offense form a nice, skinny row of single digits on the page. There is a "1" for third-down efficiency, a "2" for passing yards gained per game, a "3" for average gain per offensive play.
But when the eyes scan to the Colts' rushing offense, the numbers jut out like a rock formation: 32. There's also a "30" for the Colts' average gain per rushing play for good measure.
No, the Colts' running game is neither the strength nor the emphasis of the offense, and everyone knows it.
"If you look at our numbers, our numbers have not been good," Colts head coach Jim Caldwell said earlier this week. "We have been either 31st or 32nd throughout the entire year (in rushing offense), so for me to tell you that's a figment of someone's imagination, that's not the case."
However, for as maligned as the running game has been, it came up big in the AFC title game vs. the Jets. In a major surprise, the Colts outgained the Jets, the NFL's top-ranked rushing offense, 101-86.
To the Colts, who rushed fewer times than every team in the league in 2009 but one (Arizona), it was a performance that validated the importance of their ground game — and dispelled the notion that it's a major weakness heading into Super Bowl XLIV against New Orleans on Sunday.
"I think sometimes, and we're all guilty of it to some degree, (it's) that if you don't have a 1,000-yard rusher, you didn't run the football very well," Colts RBs coach Gene Huey said. " … We don't have big (rushing) numbers, but we're balanced enough to where we are able to win."
For a team that can bury its ground game under a barrage of Peyton Manning passes, the Colts can't be accused of not investing in the RB position. Starter Joseph Addai was a first-round pick in 2006, and top backup Donald Brown was a first-rounder last year. Addai, who led the Colts with 828 yards and 10 touchdowns on 219 carries in the regular season, is likely to get most of the work against the Saints, with the quick, intriguing Brown to get a handful of carries too.
Addai played well in Super Bowl XLI, rushing for 77 yards on 19 carries and catching 10 passes for 66 yards on a rainy night in Miami, when the Colts, no doubt motivated by the conditions and the Bears' cover-2 scheme, surprisingly rushed 42 times for 191 yards and a touchdown en route to victory.
"He's a lot faster than you think," Saints SS Roman Harper observed of the 5-11, 214-pound Addai. "He's shifty. He's definitely more of a jump-cutter. And he gets downhill quickly. He runs harder than you think, and half of that is how fast he is getting downhill."
Said Huey: "There are times he reminds me of (former Baltimore Colts and Washington Redskins RB) Joe Washington, the great runner from Oklahoma. Sometimes Joseph seems like he is making cuts in mid-air because of his quickness and lateral quicks."
The Colts use a variety of running plays, with Harper and DT Sedrick Ellis noting Indianapolis' fondness for running quick-hitting traps in addition to stretch plays run to the right and left. The Colts' offensive line, which must adjust quickly if Manning audibles, is adept at not giving away whether it's a run or passing play, Ellis said, and he believes the Colts' success running the ball will be tied to all of their parts working together well.
"I think it's really a test of technique," he said. "If their technique is better, then they're going to be able to gash you. But I think they run it (as) a secondary thing to their offense, and I think that if you play your technique right, then it shouldn't be that big a factor."
And the numbers suggest the Colts' running game shouldn't be a primary concern for the Saints on Sunday. Addai knows how weak his part of the offense looks in spreadsheet form.
"So we never look at the paper," he said. "It's always about, in the game, did we feel like we did what we have to do?"
Many more times than not this season, they have, with the nice, skinny row of "Ws" in the win column the only proof that matters in the Colts' eyes.