INDIANAPOLIS – The overriding objective Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium is team-oriented: win and hope that’s enough to earn a playoff berth.
But there’s an individual milestone within reach, one that could enhance the Indianapolis Colts’ ability to achieve their overriding objective.
Jonathan Taylor needs 84 yards to become just the fifth rookie in franchise history to reach 1,000 yards. The elite company he would join: Hall of Famers Edgerrin James (1999) and Marshall Faulk (1994), along with Joseph Addai (2006) and Dominic Rhodes (2001).
“I’m not sure Jonathan Taylor wants it as much as I want it for him,’’ offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said Tuesday on a Zoom conference call. “That’s obviously a huge team goal. You don’t think those offensive linemen are thinking the same thing Jonathan is?
“We’re all thinking that.’’
While Taylor’s pursuit of a personal milestone is secondary, him getting there could be one of the keys to the Colts atoning for the season-opening stumble at Jacksonville. The Jaguars are dealing with a franchise-record 14-game losing streak since stunning Indy and bring to town a defense that ranks 32nd overall (416.4 yards per game) and 30th against the run (145.3).
Sunday, a running back that’s found his comfort zone will go against a defense that seems to be wearing down.
Taylor is averaging 97.6 yards per game and 5.5 yards per attempt over his last five games. The Jaguars have allowed rushing averages of 177.6 yards per game and 4.9 per attempt over their last five.
Five different backs have cracked the 100-yard mark against them, including three in the last five: Cleveland’s Nick Chubb (144), Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook (120) and Tennessee’s Derrick Henry (215). Chicago’s David Montgomery fell shy short last Sunday (95 yards).
As much as Jacksonville has struggled, Taylor has surged. His 488 yards since the Nov. 22 meeting with Green Bay rank 6th among league backs, and that’s with him missing one game while on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
“He’s playing great football,’’ Sirianni said. “He’s had some runs this last month of the season that if I’m watching all the runs in the NFL, he’s right up there with anybody else.’’
Taylor’s productive rookie season has included 28 rushes that have gained at least 10 yards, tied for 6th-most in the league. His 916 yards rank 2nd among rookie rushers; Jacksonville’s James Robinson’s 1,070 yards top the list. His nine rushing TDs are tied for 10th among all players.
This is what the Colts envisioned when they selected the ultra-productive back out of Wisconsin with the 41st overall pick in the April draft. Concerned Taylor still wouldn’t be on the board when Indy was on the clock with the 44th selection, general manager Chris Ballard moved up three spots to ensure he’d get his big-play back.
“Anytime a unique talent starts to fall a little bit, at that point we’re like, ‘Man, we need to go get the player,’’’ Ballard said at the time. “To me, he’s too unique of a talent.
“There’s nothing worse on draft day than you say, ‘This guy is really going to make us better and help our football team win,’ and then he goes the pick in front of you.’’
Sirianni praised Ballard’s scouting staff for doing its due diligence on Taylor, and going much deeper than the 6,174 yards and 50 TDs in three seasons with the Badgers.
“Our scouts do a great job of just digging deeper in the player . . . the person, the player, everything,’’ he said. “They found out about Jonathan Taylor that he is not only a stud on the football field . . . the reason he’s a stud on the football field is because he’s got great character, and he’s got great want-to and desire to be great.
“When you get a guy like that who’s self-motivated and gets himself better, he’s just going to continue to raise his level of play. And that’s what we’ve seen throughout that year with Jonathan.’’
Taylor’s gradual progression has a 1,000-yard season within reach. And that’s not just some arbitrary number.
“I think that’s special for any player and sure, we always want our players to reach those milestones,’’ Sirianni said. “They work so hard in classroom, they work so hard on the field, they work so hard in the weight room. When we have an opportunity to get guys those milestones, of course we want to do that. If we had to get a guy 100 catches, of course we want to do that . . . 30 touchdown passes, 1,000 yards, all those things.
“Obviously the first and most important thing is we’re going to do what we need to do to win this football game. If that means Jonathan Taylor ends up with 1,000 yards on the dot, that’s what it means. If it means he ends up with 1,200 yards, that’s what it means.
“We know what’s at stake with this football game. We’re going to do everything we can to win this football game. If we get him 1,000 yards on the way to the victory, that’ll be awesome. To get a win and to get him 1,000 yards would be really cool for him and for us as a staff.’’
As Sunday’s game winds down, Sirianni and the offensive staff will be kept abreast of Taylor’s Countdown to 1,000. Personnel in the press box will keep everyone updated.
“You usually know stuff like that,’’ Sirianni said. “That information is always easier to get if you’re got a lead and you’re in that 4-minute mode of running out the clock. We’ll handle it how it needs to be handled.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.