Why Indianapolis Colts' Struggling Defense Is Real Key to Deep Playoff Run

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Why Indianapolis Colts' Struggling Defense Is Real Key to Deep Playoff Run
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

If the phrase "defense wins championships" is true, the Indianapolis Colts have a lot of work to do.

I could go on forever to talk about how Reggie Wayne's absence has hurt the offense, but with Andrew Luck on that side of the ball, the Colts can still find ways to win.  The offense still has weapons, and even with that offensive line, they can still put up points.

The defense is a different story.

Defensively, the numbers continue to drop.  Although this looked to be an average defensive squad at the beginning of the season, it is now a unit that's near the bottom of the league.  Over their past four games, the Colts have allowed 30.5 points per contest.  

If that was the pace for this whole season, the Colts would rank 29th in the league, ahead of only the Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Minnesota Vikings.

Overall, the season numbers aren't looking pretty, as you can see below.

Colts 2013 Defensive Statistics
Total Per Game NFL Rank
Total Yards 3650 365 22
Passing Yards 2389 238.9 16
Rushing Yards 1261 126.1 28
Points Allowed 220 22 10

ESPN.com

Those aren't numbers you want to see.

With the current playoff picture, the Colts will have to potentially play teams like the Denver Broncos, New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs in the postseason, with two of those teams having some of the deadliest quarterbacks in NFL history.

If the Colts want to make a deep playoff run, they're going to have to get to the passer.

Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Robert Mathis has done a terrific job of this, leading the NFL with 13.5 sacks.  According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Mathis ranks second among 3-4 outside linebackers with a 19.9 overall grade.

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But Mathis can't do it alone.  The two players tied for second on the team in sacks are Cory Redding and Jerrell Freeman, and they only have 3.5 each.  No other player has more than one.  Football Outsiders has the Colts as the 23rd-ranked rush defense in the league.

One player that the Colts need to step up is first-round draft pick Bjoern Werner.  He's missed a significant amount of time, but now that he's back, the Colts need him more than ever.  He has just one sack and six quarterback hurries, and has a minus-3.1 pass rush grade, the second-worst mark of all Colts players ahead of only Erik Walden, according to PFF.

While a number of AFC teams have great quarterbacks, even more have great receivers.  Names like Wes Welker, A.J. Green, Danny Amendola, Demaryius Thomas and Dwayne Bowe come to mind, which means that the secondary for the Colts is going to have to find ways to frustrate them.

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Vontae Davis has already stepped up in a situation like this back when the Colts took on the Broncos.  In that game, he was thrown at eight times in the game, yet only allowed three catches for a whopping total of 12 yards, per PFF.

Others need to step up.  Darius Butler has shown flashes, but consistency has been an issue.  Greg Toler keeps getting hurt, and he's starting to become more of a liability than anything.  Cassius Vaughn has struggled when he's been in.  Antoine Bethea doesn't look like the same player.

Is LaRon Landry going to have to be the one to step up?  I don't think that's a good idea at all.

The Colts keep finding ways to win, but the defense has become a major concern.  With all of the weapons on all of these AFC teams, the defense is going to have to step up, or else they could be facing yet another early playoff exit in the early stages of the Pagano era.

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