A priority of the new Colts coach Jim Caldwell this off-season was improving Indy's defense. Though the 2008 Colts were ranked high in terms of scoring defense (#6, surrendering 18.6 ppg), their inconsistent run defense and horrid execution on third down were weaknesses teams like the San Diego Chargers exploited with great success.
The tragedy that was the 2008 defense would play out as follows: The opponent would run for roughly 8 yards total on first and second down, convert third and short, and sustain long drives which would often result in points. Teams could drive between the 20s with ease, but would often stall in the redzone (thus, allowing only 18.6 ppg). Teams never blew out the Colts, but they would hang around with annoying effect, only to spring a big play on the Colts defense sometime late in a game. We saw the Titans do this last year, dominating the fourth quarter in Nashville, and the Chargers worked the same magic in overtime in the playoffs.
This season, things are a little different. When the Colts get the lead, they lay the hammer down on their opponents.
The Colts currently sport the #1 defense in football. While the typical ranking for #1 defense is usually yards per game, anyone who knows football knows that yards per game is about as important (as in, not very) as time of possession. The key stat for ranking a #1 defense is average points allowed. Yahoo Sports, who boast some very robust stats, use scoring defense is their standard for total defensive ranks. With the Denver Broncos getting blown out this past weekend against the Baltimore Ravens, the Colts have leap-frogged the Broncos as the #1 scoring defense, allowing a spectacular 13 ppg. Even in the utterly over-rated category of yards per game, the Colts are ranked very high at #9.
Just so people know just how meaningless yards per game is, the New York Giants are currently ranked 3rd in the league in fewest yards allowed per game, but are ranked 22nd in points allowed, averaging 22.9 ppg. And if you've seen NY's defense play of late, and you think they are the #3 ranked defense in the league based on the fact that they surrender an average of 278 yards a game, I personally will laugh in your face.
Back to the Colts, they also ranked #5 in sacks (20 total), #1 in passing TDs allowed (3 in total, with 2 of those three in gargage time), tied for #1 with the NY Jets in average yards per completion (5.5 yards), #4 in opposing QB rating (68.0), and tied for #1 with six other teams for allowing only one play longer than 40 yards.
Even in the longtime dreaded stat of rushing yards allowed per game, the Colts are a respectable #17, with the Miami Dolphins games still weighing down the ranking. Interesting note: Of the 16 teams ranked ahead of Indy, only the Jets (ranked 14th overall) and the Saints (ranked 11th) have faced the Dolphins Wild Cat. None of the top ten rushing defenses has had to stop that rushing attack. Just sayin'.
So, with Indy new, aggressive, attack-style defense that forces teams to throw the ball, I think the days of third down being "automatic" for the opponent are ending. Much of the credit for this defensive turnaround should go to Jim Caldwell and Larry Coyer. As we have said since, pretty much, Week Four, for all the attention Mike Nolan is getting in Denver with the Broncos defense, the guy Denver fired three years ago (Coyer) is doing an equally great job in Indy. Denver's defenses were always strong when Coyer ran them, and it was the incompetence of then-Broncos team president and head coach Mike Shanahan that held them back, never providing Coyer with decent talent on the defensive line.
Now, Coyer has LOADS of talent on the d-line, and the result is... well, he result is a typical, kick ass Coyer defense.
Obviously, they do not pass out any trophies when your team is ranked #1 in anything at Week 8. We've seen the Colts sport an impressive #1 scoring ranking before (2007) only to see injury and disaster cause them to stumble in the playoffs (again, 2007). So, nothing is written in stone and nothing is promised.
However, it does feel good to know that this defense has such great potential. If you listened to any of the post-game interview this past Sunday with Matt Stover, you heard him say how amazed he was with Indy's defense. That's saying a lot, considering Stover has spent the bulk of his storied career with the Baltimore Ravens.