JOSEPH ADDAIexited the RCA Dome in Indianapolis last Saturday night as unassumingly as he'dentered. Despite rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown on a season-high 25carries in a 23--8 AFC wild-card playoff victory over Kansas City, the Colts'rookie back kept the hood of his oversized black sweatshirt pulled over hishead as he trudged through a throng of fans. Only the purple-and-gold LSUbackpack slung over his shoulder hinted he might be worth pursuing for anautograph.
The pregame talkhad centered on what damage Pro Bowl back Larry Johnson would inflict on theColts' weak rushing defense, leaving Addai happily overlooked. But while hestayed true to his low-key nature afterward--"I just wanted to start fastand be as productive as I could," Addai said--his impact on the Colts wasimpossible to ignore. As opponents focus on stopping quarterback PeytonManning, Addai's bursts behind a seasoned offensive line provide much-neededbalance. "Teams are trying to take away our big plays and make us establishlonger drives this year," said Indy left tackle Tarik Glenn, "but thathelps us get into a rhythm in the run game. We feel we can wear teams down ifthey let us run the ball, and that's what happened in this game. We just keptpounding it and pounding it, and everything eventually opened up."
The 30th pick inthe draft, Addai (226 carries) split duty this season with sixth-year veteranDominic Rhodes (187) but clearly has the greater upside, with the quickness andthe vision to slash through defenses; his 1,081 rushing yards led all NFLrookies. "Joe is the most complete running back I've seen come into theleague in a long time," says Indy coach Tony Dungy. "He's a goodblocker. He runs excellent routes. He understands pass-protection schemes. Mostyoung backs only know how to run, because that's all they've ever done. Joealready knows a lot about what it takes to play his position."
After playingquarterback at Sharpstown High in Houston, Addai bounced from tailback tofullback to wide receiver in his four years at LSU and never had a 1,000-yardrushing season. One benefit of that experience was that the 5'11",214-pound Addai learned the significance of blocking angles, route-running andreading defensive adjustments. It also heightened his appreciation when he didget touches. "There was a time in college when I was caught up in how manycarries I was going to get," he says. "Now I may not know how often I'mgoing to get the ball, but I make the most of what I do get." Says Glenn,"He's impressed us all with how well he's handled the load. This is adifficult offense, especially with all the no-huddle and the adjustments thatPeyton makes, but he knows exactly what he's doing."
For the Colts toadvance, Addai must continue to make the most of his chances, starting thisweekend in Baltimore against the AFC's best rushing D. It helps that he hasdeveloped into a more patient runner with each week and that Dungy's platoonsystem has kept him fresh. In fact, that may be the scariest thing about Addai:As Kansas City learned on Saturday, he's just now hitting his stride. "Wedidn't want to give him 320 carries and then get to this point with him feelinglike he's already played 20 games," says Dungy. "We wanted him to beready for this time of year. And so far it looks like it's working."
DR. Z'S FORECAST COLTS AT RAVENS
The book is, be judicious in blitzing Peyton Manningbecause he gets to his hot reads so quickly. In two recent games Baltimorethrew Manning the most relentless set of blitzes he'd ever faced, but he hungin, avoiding any sacks, and Indy won twice. I think Manning will make it threestraight, no matter how many rushers come at him. The Colts' D, which has beenfirmed up by using middle linebacker Rob Morris on the outside, won't stop theRavens, but Indy will outscore them. COLTS 31, RAVENS 27
ON BALANCE Defenses can't zero in on Indy's passing game because of Addai, who carried a season-high 25 times against the Chiefs.