The Colts’ defense absolutely stunk in 2016.
If that’s news to you, then you probably haven’t been paying attention to things in Indianapolis. This year’s unit actually was the worst Colts defense in the Indianapolis era in terms of yards per game, topping the previous worst set... last year.
Also, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ve surely realized by now that the Colts’ front seven was a major problem in 2016, specifically in regards to their linebacking corps - which were a complete mess. And according to Pro Football Focus in their most recent rankings, the Colts had the lowest-graded front seven in the NFL this season. Here’s what they wrote:
The grades above speak for themselves. Two other teams this year had their worst starter in the front-seven grade out better than the Colts’ best starter. Indianapolis pressured opposing quarterbacks on a comically-low 25.4 percent of their dropbacks, despite blitzing at a higher rate than the league average.
According to PFF, the highest-graded member of the front seven for the Colts was inside linebacker Edwin Jackson (with a grade of 61.6), while the lowest-graded member of the front seven for the Colts was outside linebacker Erik Walden (with a grade of 41.2). While I’d argue that Walden was actually one of the better linebackers for Indy this year, that’s not a very high bar whatsoever so the basic point remains the same: the front seven stunk.
It’s also clear that PFF thinks the Colts defense was absolutely terrible last year, as in addition to ranking the Colts’ front seven 32nd they ranked the Colts’ secondary 31st. And considering the fact that the only team ranked below the Colts in the secondary rankings, the Eagles, were second in the front seven rankings, it’s safe to say that PFF thinks the Colts’ defense was the worst in the NFL last year.
Based on what PFF wrote, it seems that this grade is heavily dependent upon the weaknesses of the Colts’ linebacking corps. Their lowest-graded player was a linebacker, while one of the big points that PFF made was about the Colts being unable to pressure opposing quarterbacks - which in their defensive system depends heavily on the linebackers. The defensive line wasn’t anything special either, however, and for most of the year it was filled with guys who could be characterized as “just guys” and nothing special.
Without a doubt the biggest need for the Colts this offseason is to address their linebacker positions, as they stunk in 2016 and should undergo quite a bit of change. Robert Mathis retired, while Trent Cole and Erik Walden are set to become free agents. That leaves Akeem Ayers and Curt Maggitt as the most noteworthy outside linebackers left, while at inside linebacker they may bring back D’Qwell Jackson for another year, and they have some young guys to work with like Edwin Jackson and Antonio Morrison, but it’s fair to say that the Colts have questions at both inside linebacker spots too. I would characterize the outside linebacker position and the inside linebacker position as the two biggest needs on the team entering this offseason.