Perhaps viewed as a pass-first team last season, the Indianapolis Colts might be on their way to transitioning to a wholly different approach in 2013.
A power run game and dominant play up front lifted the Colts to an impressive victory last week, and that could prove to be a winning formula again Sunday against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars.
Indianapolis (2-1) acquired running back Trent Richardson from Cleveland earlier in the week and wasted no time employing a style that many observers thought it wasn't capable of playing. Facing a big and physical San Francisco team, the Colts outplayed the 49ers in the trenches and wore them down en route to a 27-7 road victory Sunday.
Richardson scored a touchdown on his first carry and finished with 35 yards on 13 attempts, while starter Ahmad Bradshaw led the way with a season-high 95 yards and a score on 19 rushes.
Richardson could see a significantly bigger workload this week with Bradshaw having been ruled out due to a neck injury.
It was Bradshaw who keyed Indianapolis topping the 100-yard rushing mark in every week this season, including 179 against the 49ers. The Colts rank fourth in the NFL with 146.3 rushing yards per game.
"I think that was a definite step in the right direction," left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. "A lot of that has to do with the fact that we just have backs that are fun to block for."
The effective ground attack has certainly made things easier on Andrew Luck, who went 18 of 27 for a career-low 164 yards Sunday but ran for a score for the second time in three weeks. Luck threw for 4,374 yards as a rookie last season, when Indianapolis averaged 104.4 yards on the ground, but he's passed for fewer than 200 yards in two of the first three games -both wins.
Indianapolis was equally impressive on the defensive side of the ball, sacking the mobile Colin Kaepernick three times, intercepting him once and keeping him off the scoreboard. The Colts limited San Francisco to 254 yards.
"It was as complete a game as I think we've played since we've been here,'' coach Chuck Pagano said.
Indianapolis needs one more victory for its best start since winning its first 14 games in 2009, and its powerful ground attack should give it a good chance to achieve that this week.
Jacksonville (0-3) gave up 156 rushing yards in a 45-17 loss at Seattle on Sunday and has the worst run defense in the NFL at 167.7 allowed yards per game. The defeat was the franchise-worst eighth overall for the Jaguars, who have allowed 29.1 points per game while dropping 15 of 16.
"It's a pretty clear picture,'' coach Gus Bradley said. "But I don't want to say that in regards to saying, 'OK, we're three years away (from contending).' That's not how we think. We're just trying to get these guys to play at their highest level."
Bradley's team ranks last in the league in total offense with 230.3 yards a contest, though the Jaguars are hoping to benefit from the return of quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
He'll start for the first time since slicing open the back of his throwing hand in a season-opening loss to Kansas City. Gabbert went 18 of 31 for 209 yards and an interception before leaving with a shoulder injury in a 27-10 home loss to the Colts on Nov. 8, the teams' last meeting.
Cecil Shorts, who had a touchdown catch in both matchups with the Colts last season, has been one of Jacksonville's few effective offensive weapons this year. He has 16 receptions for 236 yards with Chad Henne under center the past two contests.
"We are a very young team and we are still learning,'' Shorts said. "We still have a lot of stuff to improve on and we'll hit it hard this week.''
The Jaguars would like to get star running back Maurice Jones-Drew going, but he's averaging a career-low 2.6 yards per carry while battling an ankle injury.
Jones-Drew, though, has had success against the Colts, rushing for an average of 153.3 yards with two touchdowns in his last three meetings. He sat out last year's loss in Jacksonville due to a foot injury.
Indianapolis ranks 26th in the league against the run at 129.0 yards a game.
Luck wasn't at his best as the Colts and Jaguars split their two meetings last year, throwing for 540 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions while posting a 55.6 completion percentage and 77.3 rating.
Bradshaw is far from Indianapolis' only injury concern. Safety LaRon Landry (ankle) and defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois (groin) also have been ruled out, though linebacker Pat Angerer (knee) and center Samson Satele (elbow) are listed as probable.
Jaguars tight end Marcedes Lewis will make his season debut after missing the first three games with a calf injury, but receivers Stephen Burton (concussion) and Mike Brown (back) won't play and neither will safety Dwight Lowery (concussion).
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