The third-year back headlines an Indianapolis running game that in 2021, led the NFL with 1,811 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns behind one of the league’s best offensive lines.
It’s no secret that the key to stopping the Colts’ offense is to stop their vaunted rushing attack. Taylor carried the momentum from last season into 2022, rushing for 215 yards in just the first two weeks of the new season.
This is why he is the “No. 1 focus” for the Kansas City defense in their Week 3 game — at least according to Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
“Next Gen Stats is always putting out clips. So there’s three of them on there where they’ve got him busting out through the line,” Spagnuolo said of Taylor while speaking to reporters on Thursday. “Then over on the bottom right, [they] clocked his miles per hour. So by the time he gets to the second-level linebackers, he’s at like 22 mph. That sticks out.”
In addition to acknowledging Taylor’s talent, Spagnuolo praised Indianapolis head coach Frank Reich and his staff for putting their star running back in a position to succeed.
“He’s got power, he’s got speed,” noted Spagnuolo, “and I think the scheme that Frank has been using with him really fits him. I see a lot of when Le’Veon Bell was in Pittsburgh. They used to hand him the ball — and he used to bounce and find it. He lets the seam open up because he’s got a good offensive line — and then poof! He’s gone.”
Kansas City linebackers coach Brendan Daly also spoke with reporters on Thursday, emphasizing that the Chiefs’ defense cannot let Taylor build a head of steam. Otherwise, his combination of speed and power could mean a long day for the team’s defense.
“He’s a really good back,” remarked Daly. “He’s got a nice mix of power (and) a physical running style — but he’s got elite speed [and] he’s got elite burst. He’s an impressive football player. You can’t let him build speed. That’s one of the things: if he’s able to get downhill on a 45-degree angle and not break stride, man, it is a tough play to make.
“We’ve got to build a wall up front with the defensive line — [and] with the linebackers, we’ve got to eliminate space in the front and not let it get started. [That] would be the first thing. [But] when he does, we’ve got to tackle well, we’ve got to do a good job of having a low target on those tackles, we’ve got to deal with his stiff-arm — and we’ve got to get multiple people there. He runs with a really aggressive and hard style.”
Newly-appointed starter Darius Harris will be one of the linebackers responsible for keeping Taylor and the rest of the Indianapolis running backs in check. A former undrafted free agent, Harris was promoted to the starting spot after the suspension of linebacker Willie Gay Jr. Harris says he’s ready to make the most of this opportunity — and sees himself as being capable of making an impact in the running game.
“I definitely have a lot of opportunities to come downhill to make plays in the run game,” Harris told reporters. “With them being a very good offensive team — running the ball and passing as well — I mean, there will be an opportunity that presents itself for me to make plays. So I’m just ready for when the time calls.”
Harris hopes that studying film on the Colts’ offensive tendencies will give him the advantage he needs to make plays a split-second faster — and help stop Taylor.
“That’s a very talented back,” Harris said. “He has a good offensive line in front of him — but I mean, obviously on my [end], it’s just watching film, studying and trying to steal formation tendencies and things of that sort. See what they give us — and what possible runs or things of that sort can I get out of that, just to be a step faster to the ball. And make sure I’m in position to make good tackles and try to limit him to [the] least yards possible.”
Taylor and the Colts’ running game rightfully have the attention of the Chiefs’ defense. Although slowing them down will be an immense challenge — and Gay’s loss will not help with that — doing so will be crucial if the Chiefs want to leave Indiana with a 3-0 record.