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This year’s Colts defense is one of the worst in franchise history

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts have never really been known for their defenses, and they’ve certainly had some bad ones. But it could be argued that this year’s defense ranks right at the top of the list of the worst defenses in the Indianapolis era.

Since moving to Indianapolis in 1984, the team has had eight seasons (out of 32) in which they have given up more than 25 points per game, and they’ve had twelve seasons in which they’ve given up 350+ yards per game. But only once have the Colts allowed more points per game than what they’re allowing this year, and they have never allowed more yards per game in a season than they are this year.

The Colts rank among the league’s worst in points per game (28.6) and yards per game (399.7) allowed by their defense, and that fits right near the top in the franchise’s record books for futility. The only defense that they have had that gave up more points per game was in 2001, when the team gave up 30.4 points per game. That loss led to the firing of the coaching staff, the drafting of a star pass rusher in Dwight Freeney, and it set the stage for the most successful run in Colts history. Meanwhile, no Colts defense in the Indianpaolis era has ever allowed more yards than what the team is currently averaging this year, with the next closest total actually being last year’s mark of 379.1 yards per game allowed. And the third highest total? Another one of Chuck Pagano’s defenses, allowing 379.1 yards per game.

Most Points Per Game Allowed (1984-present)
Rank Year Amount
1 2001 30.4
2 2016 28.6*
3 1998 27.8
4 2011 26.9
5 1984 25.9

Most Yards Per Game Allowed (1984-present)
Rank Year Amount
1 2016 399.7*
2 2015 379.1
3 2012 374.2
4 2011 370.9
5 2004 370.6

* through seven games

Now certainly there are some caveats to this, as it’s harder to play defense now than ever. It’s an offensive league and a league geared primarily toward offense, so that could be an explanation for why the three highest per game yardage totals for the Colts have come in three of the past five seasons. But make no mistake: the Colts are still really, really bad no matter how you look at it. They’re among the worst in the league in points given up per game (28th), yards given up per game (28th), first downs allowed per game (31st), yards per play allowed (29th), third down percentage (24th), passing yards per game allowed (25th), sacks (tied for 24th), opponent completion percentage (30th), opponent passer rating (29th), rushing yards per game allowed (25th), yards per rush allowed (tied for 26th), pass defense DVOA (29th), rush defense DVOA (32nd), and total defense DVOA (31st). So even if you think the comparison with past defenses is unfair because of the way the league is now, just know that the Colts are still among the worst defenses in the NFL no matter what. Furthermore, they’ve given up at least 22 points in every game this year, while they’ve allowed 350+ yards in five of seven games.

The level of defensive production is flat out unacceptable for any team, but particularly one in the fifth year of a rebuild with a defensive-minded head coach. In the fifth season under Chuck Pagano, the Colts are allowing 28.6 points per game and 399.7 yards per game through the first seven games. That’s really bad. But is it enough to make a change? We know how much Jim Irsay wants to replicate the previous era, but in the fifth year with Peyton Manning the Colts allowed just 19.6 points per game and 306.8 yards per game (that was also Tony Dungy’s first year as head coach). It would be better for the team if they could parallel that 2001 season, however, as they had a horrific defense, fired their coaching staff, and added a legitimate pass rusher in the following draft. After getting Dwight Freeney and Tony Dungy in place, the defense really started to turn around. Maybe this year’s defensive effort will finally lead to Jim Irsay doing something about it, which would parallel 2001, but it’s embarassing that it even came to that level of futility with this year’s defense.