Addai Embraces Rushing Role in Peyton's Shadow
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Peyton Manning's MVP arm and his cast of young and veteran receivers have been the engine that has driven the Indianapolis Colts offense to 5,809 total yards of offense this season.
Their contribution has been 4,515 passing yards, second-best in the NFL. Which means that running back Joseph Addai, the player who scored the game-winning touchdown in the Colts' 2006 AFC championship victory over the Patriots and was a central figure in their Super Bowl XLI win over the Bears, has largely been an afterthought in 2009.
Indianapolis comes into Sunday's Super Bowl XLIV contest against the NFC champion New Orleans Saints with the NFL's worst-ranked attack in the regular season, averaging only 80.9 yards per game.
But Addai, who tied an NFL rookie record in '06 with four rushing touchdowns in a single game, doesn't take the criticism about Indianapolis' lack of a consistent running game personally.
Addai knows he's part of a bigger package.
"I'm human, but at the same time you have a chance every Sunday to go prove yourself," Addai said at the Colts' team hotel in Fort Lauderdale Beach, Fla., where the team arrived late Monday afternoon to kick off its second busy Super Bowl week in the last four seasons. "Do I feel like I bring something to the table? Yes, I feel like bring something to the table."
The numbers, however, are less than stellar. While Manning and Co. concentrate on pushing the ball downfield through the air, Addai and rookie running back Donald Brown collected only 1,109 rushing yards between them during the regular season.
The rushing drought has largely continued through the postseason, with the two combing for 143 total yards in playoff victories over the Ravens and Jets.
"Numbers? The numbers are not where we want them, but I think when we do run the ball, we do have a good chance of making yardage or making something happen," said Addai, 26, the Colts' first-round pick in the '06 NFL draft (30th overall) who led all rookie running backs that season with 1,081 yards despite not starting a regular-season game. "That's how I look at it."
In the Colts' 30-17 AFC title game victory over the New York Jets, the Colts churned out 101 rushing yards, helping set up play-action for Manning and neutralizing the blitz pressure.
But Colts coach Jim Caldwell, who is known for his brutal honesty, won't tell you that his team's rushing attack is underappreciated or underrated.
"One thing that I want to make certain so that you get a sense of me; I am pretty authentic, I am pretty straightforward. If you look at our numbers, our numbers have not been good," Caldwell said bluntly. "We have been either 31st or 32nd throughout the entire year, so for me to tell you that's a figment of someone's imagination, that's not the case.
"It's an area we know needs improving, [an area] we work on constantly and an area of emphasis, but I do think there are certain times in certain ballgames, like the last one that we played, where we have been effective. So it's not consistently ineffective, we just haven't been consistently effective."
For Addai, this latest Super Bowl opportunity means less pressure on him as a runner as the emphasis shifts to what he can do for Indianapolis as a short-yardage back, where he's put up 10 rushing touchdowns and 828 yards on 219 carries. He's also relishing his role as a blocker and an occasional receiver (51 catches, 336 yards, three touchdowns).
He's relaxed and having fun this week in South Florida, confident that he's making a strong contribution to one of the NFL's most potent offenses -- even if it's not always visible in the stats column every week.
"It's really how you look at it. If you just watch the game and you say, 'That's a nice run,' but you look on paper and oh, you see something different," Addai said. "So it's all kind of how you look at it, and what we're working with that game.
"When you have a great player like Peyton Manning, you want him to make a lot of the decisions, and he does a great job. It's all about getting that 'W' and that's what we've been doing all year."