In the next week, there will be plenty of things written about the Indianapolis Colts' offensive struggles. It's been abysmal since the loss of Reggie Wayne, with two successful halves in the last four weeks. It's worth talking about.
There will be things written about Ryan Grigson and the scary direction that the Colts are headed, with key moves in the 2013 offseason (and season) that have negative long-term implications. It's also worth talking about.
But what also needs to be discussed in the wake of another blowout loss is the Colts defense, and how poorly they've played over the last four weeks.
Since Week 9, the Colts have given up 132 points, including 93 points in the first half. Now, you can take away 21 of those points for the defense (interception return, fumble return and punt return), but the final numbers are still damning for Chuck Pagano's defense: an average of 27.75 points per game, 18 in the first half.
Obviously, the Colts first-half offensive struggles have contributed, putting the defense in unfavorable situations, but the level at which the defense is playing simply isn't going to cut it.
The Colts offense has faced massive injury issues, with Donald Thomas, Vick Ballard, Ahmad Bradshaw, Dwayne Allen and Reggie Wayne all on the injured reserve list. The defense, however, has had relatively few injuries, with no starters on IR and Greg Toler the only significant injury over the last few weeks (LaRon Landry did miss a few weeks early in the season).
Grigson spent all kinds of money on the defense this offseason as a part of Jim Irsay's attempt to build a more "balanced" team after having very offense-heavy years during the Bill Polian/Peyton Manning era. Grigson brought in (on big contracts) players like the aforementioned Landry, Toler, Ricky Jean Francois, Aubrayo Franklin and Erik Walden.
Now, the problem isn't that those players are terrible. All of those players are decent (well, Walden is bad, but he's been okay for the last few weeks), but none are well-rounded or elite in a high-value skill. Jean Francois, Walden and Franklin are decent at stopping the run, but don't offer anything when it comes to pass rush. Landry doesn't miss tackles and is a weapon in run support, but is below-average in coverage.
Cassius Vaughn covering Larry Fitzgerald is what you get, though, when you GM overpays for a free agent CB known for being oft-injured.— Collin McCollough (@cmccollo) November 24, 2013
The problem is that while the Colts love to talk about stopping the run, the NFL is won through the air. Teams have to be able to rush the passer and cause turnovers. None of the Colts' free-agent pickups excel in those areas.
Then there's Bjoern Werner, the Colts' first-round draft pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Werner has struggled in the run game, allowing backs to get outside and pick up big gains on the ground. This would be fine if he was putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, but he's been abysmal in that regard so far. (Note: This is where the Colts' trading of Jerry Hughes in the offseason hurts. Hughes was the Colts' second-best pass-rusher last season, and currently is Pro Football Focus' fifth-best pass-rushing 3-4 OLB).
Combine this with things like Antoine Bethea and Vontae Davis playing inconsistently and giving up big plays, and you get a defense that simply isn't very good.
But it's not just personnel.
The Colts have come out in the last four weeks and looked completely unprepared. Obviously the points allowed hints at that, but watch the game. The first thing that strikes you about the defensive performances over the last few weeks is just how easy it looks for the opposing team. Whether it was Kellen Clemens, Case Keenum, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Carson Palmer, opposing offenses have been able to march up and down the field quickly and efficiently.
Indianapolis seems surprised every week, even though teams run similar concepts (crossing routes and running back screens, for example) in each game with great success. Poor coaching and preparation won't go unpunished with this team.
Had the Colts' opted for a Polian-like strategy with Andrew Luck and focused on building an offensive powerhouse, this defense would be fine. But that's not what Irsay, Grigson and Pagano wanted. They wanted a "balanced," "smashmouth" team.
Well, they got balance.
Now, instead of having one great unit and one bad unit, the Colts have two below-average units. The defense can't cover for the offense, and the offense can't function with this offensive line and lack of weapons on the outside.
Pagano was hired to be a defensive guru, and Greg Manusky did a decent job last season with worse talent. The coaches are (supposed to be) better than this. How many weeks in a row can the Colts come out and allow 20 points in the first half before Irsay has had enough?
The Colts wanted to build a team that prioritized defense, but are currently one of the worst defenses in the league. That's simply not going to cut it.