If you watched the Colts’ defense play on Sunday, odds are you noticed one thing in particular that stuck out: missed tackles.
With so many injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Colts defense was already outmatched coming into the game against a dangerous Lions offense, but Indy didn’t help themselves by missing a number of tackles and giving the Lions plenty of second chances.
Perhaps nothing says it better than this stat from ESPN: Matthew Stafford threw the football 39 times on Sunday and 26 of them were thrown five yards or less downfield - and the Colts allowed 213 yards after the catch. It’s crazy that over half of Stafford’s throws were only five yards downfield or less, but it’s even more crazy that the Colts still couldn’t stop it. Instead, the Lions seemed content to just dink-and-dunk their way down the field and count on the Colts defense not being able to tackle. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.
Now, granted, injuries did play a part: for example, Vontae Davis is arguably the best tackler in Indy’s secondary and he didn’t play (and we also can’t ignore the loss of Jerrell Freeman, a tackling machine, in free agency either). But here’s the reality: tackling is one of the most fundamental aspects of the football, and no matter who’s out there on the field for the Colts, they need to be able to bring the ballcarrier down.
“The tackling sucked,” veteran safety Mike Adams said after the game. “We have to get better at that, we have to tackle – bottom line. That drive when they scored, they shouldn’t have scored the one before the one at 30 seconds. They shouldn’t have because we missed I don’t know how many tackles on that drive and it’s unacceptable.”
Another veteran agreed with Adams’ sentiments.
"Missed tackles," outside linebacker Robert Mathis said, according to ESPN’s Mike Wells. "Defensive 101. Have to make those tackles. You do things like that, you breathe life in the offense. Have to do a better job. Getting guys on the ground. You always want to be trusted to close the game. Wasn’t able to do that."
Veteran inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who finished with only two tackles in the game, was equally as honest about the defensive problems.
“Defensively, we played like shit,” Jackson said, according to Colts.com’s Andrew Walker. “We didn’t play good enough. It started with me. We’ve got to play better towards the end. Any time you give up that many points, in this league, you’re blown out. And we can’t put our offense - we can’t put this team - in that position. To start the season off, I’m pissed, because that’s not a result of our hard work that we put in all spring. It’s not who we are. And today was horseshit. And I hate to use that language, but I’m pissed off right now because we worked too hard - coaches do as well - putting the plan together, we got plenty of time to prepare for these guys - it’s not like they surprised us. But in the end, it came down to tackling - we didn’t do a good job of that - and it came down to just finishing plays, and we didn’t do a good enough job of that.”
“We have to tackle better and we didn’t do a great job,” head coachChuck Pagano said. “We talked all week about their backs and their receivers, [Golden] Tate and [Anquan] Boldin, those guys. You have to limit yards after contact. We had multiple opportunities to make plays in their backfield and we couldn’t close it out and it cost us. It cost us a lot of extra yards, RAC yards. We said early on that that was one thing that we had to do a better job of.”
Here’s the thing: it’s easy to talk about the coaching errors or injuries or things like that, but at some point it just needs to be as simple as playing fundamental football. Defensive players need to be able to tackle, plain and simple. The Colts couldn’t do that on Sunday, and it cost them severely. And if they can’t get that fixed, it will continue to cost them moving forward too.