Colts' Defense: An Emerging Force Away From the Spotlight
I can't even begin to count the number of times I have heard that the Colts' defense has failed to live up to the standards of an elite defense. Certainly they have had their problems in the past and have disappointed on numerous occasions, but over the past four and a half years, they have quietly become a force to be dealt with. The body of work that this unit has put together over that time span has astounded even me; the statistics are pretty incredible.
2005 Colts defense rankings
2nd in points allowed
11th in yards allowed
T 5th in sacks
9th in interceptions
3rd in forced fumbles
Noteworthy: Dwight Freeney runner up for defensive player of the year
2006 Colts defense rankings
23rd in points allowed
21st in yards allowed
30th in sacks
20th in interceptions
6th in forced fumbles
2007 Colts defense rankings
1st in points allowed
3rd in yards allowed
26th in sacks
2nd in interceptions
8th in forced fumbles
Noteworthy: Bob Sanders defensive player of the year
2008 Colts defense rankings
7th in points allowed
11th in yards allowed
16th in sacks
11th in interceptions
3rd in forced fumbles
2009 Colts defense rankings (through 9 games)
1st in points allowed
13th in yards allowed
8th in sacks
10th in interceptions
7th in forced fumbles
The Colts' defense is on pace to be ranked in the top 10 in points allowed four out of the past five seasons. They're on pace to be in the top 10 in sacks for the second time in that span. Indy could also be in the top 10 in interceptions for the third time in five seasons. The Colts are in line to be in the top 10 in fumbles forced for the fifth year in a row.
Indianapolis has been in the top half of the league in every category except for most major categories in 2006 and sacks in 2007. They've had a defensive player of the year and a runner up for defensive player of the year.
Despite these defensive successes over the past five seasons, they are still given credit by only a select few.
Since one of the criticisms of the Colts' defense is that they have underperformed in the postseason, let's examine that claim. They have played seven postseason games in this span, with the Colts going 4-3 in those games.
1/15/2006 vs Steelers
The Colts' defense allowed 112 yards rushing, but on only 2.7 yards per rush. They allowed 183 yards passing with two sacks and two turnovers.
The criticism of the Colts' defense is that they gave up two early touchdowns, but it's also overlooked that they got an interception on the second drive of the game and that after a slow start they only gave up one touchdown the rest of the way.
After an offensive drive late in the game on which the Colts gave up two sacks and turned the ball over on downs, backing the defense up to the Colts' goal line, the defense forced a fumble to keep the game alive. It was eventually lost on a missed game-tying field goal.
However, one would be hard pressed to say that the Colts' defense failed to live up to the expectations, given a pretty solid performance, unless you have unrealistic expectations.
1/6/2007 vs Chiefs
The Colts' defense allowed only 44 yards rushing on 17 carries for 2.6 yards per rush. They allowed only 82 yards passing with four sacks, two interceptions, and one fumble recovery.
The first three drives of the game for the Chiefs all resulted in a three and out. On their fourth drive, the Colts' D was backed up to its own nine yard line because of an interception, but they kept the Chiefs out of the endzone and forced a field goal attempt.
The next three drives were all three and outs. After that, the Chiefs had an eight-play drive resulting in a touchdown and two point conversion, but this was the only blemish on an otherwise perfect game. The Chiefs' final three drives all resulted in turnovers.
1/13/2007 at Ravens
The Colts' defense allowed only 83 yards rushing on a middle of the road 4.2 yards per rush. They also allowed 161 yards passing with two sacks, two interceptions, and two fumble recoveries.
The first three drives for the Ravens resulted in a three and out, a fumble deep in Ravens' territory, and a punt after only one first down. The next drive the Ravens made a field goal, but they were already set up at their own 42 to start the drive.
The next three drives were a three and out, a goalline interception, and a clock management drive to run out the half. The second half offensive drives of the Ravens ended in two punts, an interception, a fumble recovery, and a field goal.
1/21/2007 vs Patriots
This is the only game in the Colts' Super Bowl run where the defense underperformed, and they weren't even as bad as popular perception makes them out to be. The Colts allowed 93 yards rushing on a 3.9 yard average. They allowed 226 yards passing with a sack and an interception.
The Patriots' first drive resulted in a punt. The next two drives were touchdown drives of 75 and 63 yards, respectively. This is certainly not acceptable, but for the rest of the game the defense would play quite well.
The Patriots' third touchdown of the game was scored by the Pats' defense. After that they gave up a punt and a kneeldown to end the half.
For the second half, the defense gave up 13 points, although the touchdown drive was set up by a kickoff return by Ellis Hobbs. There were also three punts and an interception. 34 points certainly doesn't sound like a good defensive performance, but the offense and special teams had a lot to do with two of the touchdowns scored.
Super Bowl 2/4/2007 vs Bears
The defense again came through. They did give up 111 rushing yards for a 5.8 yard average, but they only gave up 154 passing yards with two interceptions and three fumble recoveries (one on special teams).
The Colts' first drive on defense came when the Colts were down 7-0 due to a special teams touchdown by the Bears to start the game. They forced a three and out.
The next kickoff resulted in a special teams turnover, giving the ball to the Colts. The following drive was the only offensive touchdown scored by Chicago, set up in pretty good position by a Colts' turnover.
The next drive was a fumble recovery for the Colts, and the following three drives were three and outs. The following drive was a fumble recovery for the Colts.
After that, they forced a punt after only one first down. Then they gave up a field goal, but would be dominant for the remainder of the game. They had two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, a turnover on downs, and held up on a drive as time expired to seal the win. Including the turnover on downs, the defense had five takeaways, with the special teams chipping one in. Absolutely dominant.
1/13/2008 vs Chargers
This is one game where the defense is often criticised, and they didn't play as well as they should have. It's important to note, howevery, that they did make some key plays to give the rest of the team a chance.
They gave up 99 yards rushing on a 3.3 rushing average. The passing defense underperformed, with 312 passing yards allowed, but they did manage an interception on the first drive of the game.
The second drive was a touchdown. After that was a missed field goal and then a second touchdown. Then followed a three and out, a touchdown, a punt, and one final touchdown.
Up to this point, it appears as though the defense completely collapsed. What it did after that point though, was bounce back and have a strong finish to the game. After the Colts turned the ball over on downs it appeared as though the game was in all likelyhood over.
However, the defense forced a three and out to give the offense one more chance, down by four points, to win the game. The offense turned the ball over on downs once more and the defense could do nothing about it. Did the defense play a great game? By any standards no. But they don't deserve all of the blame for the Colts losing, as they managed to give the offense one final chance to win the game.
1/3/2009 at Chargers
The Colts' rushing defense did not hold up well in this game, but their pass defense was excellent. The Chargers had 167 rushing yards on a 5.1 average but only 190 passing yards on less than five yards an attempt, with one interception and one fumble recovery.
The first three drives all ended in punts. The next drive was a touchdown on a short field (started on Indy 44). After that was a three and out and another touchdown on another short field (started on Indy 45).
San Diego's offense did very little in the second half, with 3 punts, a turnover on a fumble, and an interception. The last drive of the game ended in a field goal, but started on Indy's 38 yard line.
The Chargers got the ball first in overtime and drove it for a touchdown, the blame of which falls squarely on the defense, but let's look closer at the play in regulation first. All three of San Diego's scoring drives started inside of the Colts' 45 yard line.
Every drive that the defense was not already backed up on they forced a punt or a turnover in regulation. Yet all people talk about when they reference this game is the overtime drive. This defense did its job for 60 minutes though, holding the Chargers to 17 points, not allowing a single drive that started in Chargers territory to result in points, and had to play backed up most of the game. Hardly a terrible performance.
So, what do these games tell us? I would argue that in five out of the seven games the defense did more than enough to win the game. Even in the two games where they didn't quite pull their share, they still came up with some key plays to give the team a chance to win the game at the end. This unit hasn't ultimately been a detriment to the team though.
The Colts' defense is one unit that deserves much more respect than they've been give. Over the past five years, they have become one of the better defenses in the league. The numbers clearly show that, as do some pretty spectacular playoff performances.
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