Entering the 2020 season, the combination of running backs Marlon Mack and Jonathan Taylor was called a “one-one” punch for the Indianapolis Colts.
Mack entered his fourth season as the incumbent starter, coming off his first 1,000-yard season. Taylor, the incredibly accomplished collegiate star, was drafted in the second round.
Regardless of the individual qualifiers, this was about teaming two great runners together for the better of the Colts offense. No lead dog in the race, not just one guy dominating the carries — a truly shared backfield.
And then the second quarter of their first game happened.
Well into the first half against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Mack caught a short pass and crumpled to the turf as he turned to make a move. He was helped off the field before being carted back to the locker room. Reports began to come in about the worst-case scenario: a torn Achilles tendon.
While the Colts eventually finished flat after a hot start and lost, 27-20, it was confirmed that they may be looking at a more long-term loss.
Colts head coach Frank Reich confirmed Mack suffered an Achilles injury and that they would know more on his status on Monday after Mack underwent a magnetic imaging resonance (MRI) scan.
In Mack’s absence, Taylor and Nyheim Hines dominated the backfield touches as runners and pass-catchers.
On the drive when Mack was injured, Hines punctuated the series with his second touchdown. He finished with seven carries for 28 yards (4.0 avg.) and one touchdown and caught all eight targets thrown his way for 45 yards and the other score.
Taylor’s usage began pouring in after Mack’s injury, as he would go on to lead the team with nine carries for 22 yards (2.4 avg.) including a long run of nine yards, and catching all six targets for 67 yards (11.2 avg.).
Taylor’s first career touch was enough to validate the excitement that has been focused on him for the last several months.
Quarterback Philip Rivers rolled back and lobbed a pass down the left side to Taylor, who had a developing convoy of blockers around him. Taylor took the ball 35 yards downfield, nearly scoring on his first touch before being tackled at the 2-yard line.
“You always say — and I take this saying from college — ‘You don’t count the reps, you make the reps count,’” Taylor said. “So whenever they were going to call my number, I was determined to make sure I would be able to go in, be ready, and not be a drop-off. When I did get in, I felt like I was prepared.
“I mentioned earlier, Coach ‘Rath’ (running backs coach Tom Rathman) has done a tremendous job making sure that everything is 100-percent crystal clear as far as throughout the meetings, throughout training camp, and up to the game to make sure that I fully understood the gameplan and everything that was supposed to be going on. Then it was just about execution, and at this level I found out early the small little details are what set you apart.”
Moving forward, if the concern over Mack’s potentially torn Achilles is true, that almost certainly means an end to his season.
The show that is the Colts backfield belongs to Taylor and Hines, with Jordan Wilkins providing depth as a three-down-capable sub who plays special teams.
Taylor vowed to do what he can to make sure Mack’s injury isn’t in vain.
“I don’t know the full status on Marlon,” Taylor said. “But I know that he’s gonna be in my ear, but (also) the rest of the backs’ ears until he gets back — whatever his status is — in order to make sure that we can uphold his part and make sure the running back group is not a drop-off.”
Rookies Michael Pittman Jr., Rodrigo Blankenship, Isaiah Rodgers Get Action Early
Taylor wasn’t the only Colts rookie who saw action on a relatively deep roster.
The Colts’ first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., got involved in the game early and caught both targets for 10 yards (5.0 avg.). His final catch came with 1:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, when the Colts were down by seven points and attempting to mount a comeback.
Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship’s day came with its peaks and valleys. While he drilled both of his extra point attempts, he did miss one of his three field goal attempts from 30 yards out when his kick hit the left upright and bounced back. His first make was from 38 yards out, and he redeemed his short miss by hitting a 25-yarder on his final attempt. Blankenship finished the day with eight of the Colts’ 20 points.
Cornerback Isaiah Rodgers primarily saw action on special teams and was involved in the kickoff and punt return game. Although he wasn’t able to return any kicks, he did have one fair catch on a punt. It appears as if the Colts are rotating through potential return specialists to see who sets themselves apart.
(Jake Arthur has covered the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for nearly a decade and is a contributor for the team's official website, Colts.com. He’s on Twitter and Facebook @JakeArthurNFL, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)