The Indianapolis Colts limped into the 1994 season with their customary litany of ills—soft defense, uncertain chemistry and plain bad luck. Yes, quarterback Jeff George and his ego were gone, but in his place was Chicago Bear reject Jim Harbaugh, a caretaker signal-caller not likely to inspire Super Bowl visions. There was one major difference with the Hosses this season, however—they had a Marshall Plan. Hand Marshall the ball. Throw Marshall the ball. Get Marshall the ball somehow or someway.
Rookie running back Marshall Faulk touched the ball 24 times on Sunday, rushing for 143 yards and three touchdowns and catching a screen pass for 31 yards in the Colts' 45-21 win over the Houston Oilers at the RCA Dome. "They were David, we were Goliath," said Oiler linebacker Micheal Barrow. "And their slingshot was Marshall Faulk."
Then, too, Houston looked very much like a team at which to hurl stones. In the off-season it had lost not only quarter-sack Warren Moon by way of a trade with the Minnesota Vikings but also defensive ends William Fuller (now with the Philadelphia Eagles) and Sean Jones (the Green Bay Packers) to free agency and guard Mike Munchak to retirement. Factor in the departure of defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan to the Arizona Cardinals, and it becomes a little clearer how a Colt team that had gone 4-12 last season could so dominate an Oiler team that had won its last 11 regular-season games.
Speaking of Ryan, it was a toss-up as to whom he might have taken a poke at had he been on the Oiler sideline Sunday, but a likely candidate would have been his old punching bag, assistant head coach Kevin Gilbride. Gilbride's run-and-shoot offense (Ryan called it the chuck and duck) was totally ineffective in the first half, all but handing the Colts three touchdowns on turnovers. Or perhaps Ryan might have directed his wrath at his replacement at defensive coordinator, Jeff Fisher. Fisher's charges allowed Indianapolis, the NFL's worst rushing team three years in a row, to pick up 182 yards on the ground.
Still, the Colts are undeniably an improved team. Faulk is only one of a handful of fresh faces that add vigor to a beleaguered franchise. Linebacker Tony Bennett, a free agent from the Green Bay Packers, is another; it was Bennett who, with Indy leading 7-0 in the second quarter, scooped up quarterback Cody Carlson's fumble and dashed 75 yards for a touchdown. Floyd Turner, a free-agent receiver, is another; Turner caught three passes for 29 yards, including two TDs. And Harbaugh, bless his immobile heart, is another. On one second-quarter play, with Barrow and safety Marcus Robertson closing in on him, he zipped a nine-yard touchdown pass to Turner.
That's the kind of stand-up play the Colts have lacked in recent years. Now they have a newfound aggressiveness, a new spirit and a new Faulk hero. It won't be enough to get them into the Super Bowl, but based on this performance, it might get Indy to .500.