For the Colts, Sunday was supposed to be about rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson and Jonathan Taylor, the debut of a tandem new coach Shane Steichen intends to build his offense around. But then Richardson went down — unable to finish a third game in his four career appearances — injuring his right throwing shoulder when getting tackled. And Taylor, in his first game in 10 months after a lengthy ankle injury, was on a pitch count.
Richardson is believed to have sprained his AC joint and will undergo an MRI on his shoulder. Taylor, who signed a three-year, $42 million contract extension on Saturday, ran for 18 yards on six carries and caught one pass for another 16 yards.
Leading the way for Indianapolis (3-2) against a divisional rival it has struggled against in recent years turned out to be the guy who had been carrying the load in Taylor’s absence: Zack Moss.
“Zack out there man, he just set that pace,” linebacker Zaire Franklin said. “When you can run the ball and just physically impose your will on another team, that’s the kind of thing you’re looking forward to.”
Entering Sunday, the Titans were allowing just 70 rushing yards per game, fourth-best in the league. They ranked first in rushing yards allowed per play (2.9). Their defensive front is as stout as they come in the NFL, even without nose tackle Teair Tart, who was out for the game with a toe injury.
Moss was able to bully Tennessee in the trenches. A big credit goes to the Colts’ offensive line, much improved from last season. It gave Moss plenty of room to operate. Most notably, on a third-and-1 carry late in the first quarter, Moss went untouched on a 56-yard touchdown run that gave Indianapolis an early 7-3 lead.
“I was just like, ‘Please don’t get caught! This is going to be so sweet!’ And he didn’t [get caught],” center Ryan Kelly said of the play. “The speed to the hole and his vision is incredible. There were going to be some tight windows in there and he found them and he did a great job all day.”
But excluding the long score, Moss still averaged nearly five yards per carry. His physical, bruising style that has helped a surprisingly competitive Colts team this season overwhelmed a Titans defense that’s used to doing the punishment upfront.
In the third quarter, after a 22-yard defensive pass interference call against Titans cornerback Kristian Fulton gifted Indianapolis the ball in the red zone, Moss took four consecutive carries up the middle en route to his second touchdown of the day, putting the Colts up 17-13.
“I’ve always been the type of player to where the more I get going, the better I feel and the more I feel like I can do,” Moss said. “That’s just the coaches putting me in a great position. … I can’t do any of this without those guys upfront. They’ve definitely been the best.”
Moss also had two catches for 30 yards, including a 26-yard reception and run on a third-and-5 in the fourth quarter, keeping alive a drive that gave the Colts a seven-point lead with one minute left.
Overall, the former third-round pick had 25 touches for a career-high 195 scrimmage yards and two touchdowns.
“Shoot, he ran hard,” Steichen said. “He had good vision. Just resilient, running tough, taking care of the football, making big plays for us.”
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This isn’t Moss coming out of nowhere, either.
After missing the first game of this season with a broken arm, he’d stabilized the Colts’ run game entering Sunday. From Weeks 2-4, he was first in rushing first downs (17), fourth in the NFL in rushing yards (280) and fifth in rushing yards after contact (195), according to next Gen Stats. He has been one of the best tailbacks in the league this season.
In the last four weeks of 2022, he also had 69 carries for 334 yards, the latter of which ranked seventh among all running backs, according to TruMedia.
Once Taylor gets his feet under him? And Richardson gets healthy? Watch out.
“I think it could get really scary,” Taylor said of playing at full strength with Moss. “You guys have been getting a taste the past few weeks with Zack. Now, it’s on me in order to continue to do my part and continue to help this team, and that’s what I’m going to do every single day.”
Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for SeattlePI.com for three seasons (2018-20) prior to moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.
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