How Jonathan Taylor Made The Colts Contenders Again

Photo: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The Buffalo Bills were supposed to have one of the best defenses in the league. They were allowing the fewest points and third-fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL. Buffalo was a seven-point favorite at home against an Indianapolis Colts team that had mostly beat up on bad teams. Jonathan Taylor simply did not care.

Indianapolis’ running back continued his recent dominance on Sunday in Buffalo with 203 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns on 35 touches. He extended his streak to eight games with 100+ scrimmage yards and a rushing touchdown, tying him with Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson for the longest such streak in a single season in NFL history.

Taylor’s 184 yards on the ground made Sunday’s matchup with Buffalo the fifth game of his last six with more than 100 rushing yards. It also made him the NFL’s leading rusher, breaking the tie he had with Derrick Henry’s 937 yards after 10 weeks. His 1,443 all-purpose yards also lead the NFL, and no player with more than 150 touches is as productive with those touches as he is (6.4 yards per touch).

The Colts’ second-year back’s skyrocketing production has helped carry his team back into playoff contention after his—and the team’s—slow start to the year.

Through the first five weeks of the season, Indianapolis was 1-4. Their only win was against a Miami Dolphins team missing their starting quarterback in the middle of what became a seven-game losing streak. Taylor was averaging about 65.5 rushing yards and under 40 receiving yards per game with just three touchdowns at the time.

Then, Taylor returned to (and surpassed) his rookie season form—in which he averaged more than five yards per carry and more than 75 yards per game—without even getting significantly more carries. His production suddenly jumped to nearly seven yards per carry and 122 rushing yards per game entering Week 11, and he tacked on an extra seven touchdowns before Sunday’s scoring explosion. All the while, the Colts have been reaping the benefits. They jumped back up to .500, going 4-1 in the five games before the Buffalo win put them right in the thick of the AFC playoff race.

That brings us back to Sunday’s game. Head coach Frank Reich and first-year offensive coordinator Marcus Brady had only fed Taylor more than 20 carries one time this season: last week’s 21-carry, 116-yard performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars. But after Taylor tore through the Bills’ highly touted rushing defense with 35 yards on his first six carries, they just decided to keep giving him the ball. His 32 carries on the day set a new career high, and his 184 rushing yards were the second-most in a single game in his career.

That’s a warning shot for the rest of the NFL. Taylor was already a dangerously productive back when he was averaging just around 15 carries per game. If the Colts decide to keep feeding him the ball over 20 times each week? And he put up video game numbers against the top-rated defense in the NFL? Yeah, good luck trying to stop him, future opponents.

Last week, our very own Bryan Perez made a great case for why Taylor is the best running back in the NFL right now. Derrick Henry is out for most of—if not all—the rest of the regular season, and Nick Chubb has missed several games already this season. The Colts’ back is all but guaranteed to win this season’s rushing title provided he doesn’t get hurt. He’s an extremely physical running back, as he was tied for sixth-most average yards after contact (3.1) and tied for second in broken or missed tackles (15) even before Sunday, according to The Athletic. On top of all that, he’s proven that he can put up solid numbers as a receiver, too.

If Taylor’s most recent performances are any indication, he’s on his way to an incredibly productive end to the season. His current pace for more than 2,200 scrimmage yards this season might be underselling the final total considering his slow start to the season. The last six weeks have looked more like the version of Taylor we saw as a rookie, and that is great news for a Colts team that is in prime position to make a late push for the postseason.

Written By:

Jack McKessy

Staff Writer

Jack McKessy is a recent graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism who grew up in Washington, D.C. As a student, he covered Northwestern’s football, women’s soccer, women’s basketball, and baseball teams. Previously, he was in charge of social media and contributed to both written and multimedia content creation for La Vida Baseball in Chicago. He has also assisted in the production of promotional content for the Big Ten Network. Jack initially joined the TDN team as an intern during the 2020 season. Now, he writes columns—primarily analysis of the New York Giants—and helps run TDN's YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter accounts.