There were several things that contributed to the Indianapolis Colts finishing the 2016 season at 8-8 and in third place in the AFC South, missing the playoffs for the second straight year. Nothing was a bigger factor in that disappointment than the defense, however, which finished as one of the worst in Colts history.
I’ve said that it’s the worst defense that I’ve seen the Colts have, and Mike Chappell did the work to dig up the worst defenses in the history of the Colts franchise. And in terms of yards per game allowed, the 2016 unit ranked as the second-worst in team history. The 1981 defense gave up 424.6 yards per game, and the 2016 defense was next by giving up 382.9 yards per game. To put things in perspective, that means that this year’s defense was the worst since the Colts moved to Indianapolis, at least in terms of yards per game.
Furthermore, three of the four worst defenses in Colts franchise history in terms of yards per game have come under Chuck Pagano! Per Chappell, here’s the top five worst defenses in team history:
- 1981 - 424.6 yards per game
- 2016 - 382.9 yards per game
- 2015 - 379.1 yards per game
- 2012 - 374.3 yards per game
- 1953 - 373.8 yards per game
So basically, the Colts’ defenses under Chuck Pagano have really stunk. But I don’t need to tell you that, because anybody watching this team play knows that. This year, this defense was horrendously bad, and while the team will surely blame some of that on injuries, that’s not the sole reason. The talent is bad, the play is bad, and the coaching is bad. That’s not a good combination. And ever since hiring a supposedly great defensive coach in Chuck Pagano in 2012, three of his five seasons have produced three of the worst four defensive seasons in Colts history in terms of yards per game. Certainly a part of that probably has to do with a larger emphasis on offenses throughout the NFL, but the Colts have still had one of the worst defenses in the league recently.
Here’s a look at how Pagano’s defenses in Indianapolis have done - and it’s not good:
|Chuck Pagano's Defenses with the Colts
|Rush Yards Rank
|Pass Yards Rank
There are some positives you could point out, like ranking eleventh in yards in 2014 or ninth in points in 2013, but the overall picture isn't pretty - particularly the last two years. After a bad 2012 season, there started to be some slight signs of improvement in 2013 and 2014, getting to the point where the defense wasn't good, but perhaps heading in the right direction very slowly. And then 2015 and 2016 erased any doubt about it: this defense wasn't good, and it was regressing. It's been bad, and one of the biggest problems is that it's not too encouraging moving forward. Clayton Geathers looks like a good young player, and there might be some other good pieces like Vontae Davis, Kendall Langford, and Henry Anderson. But for the most part, this defense needs an overhaul. Having the worst defenses in years four and five isn't encouraging for the coaching staff or general manager, either.
I don’t think anything about the way this defense has played under defensive coach Chuck Pagano suggests that he’s the right guy to turn things around on that side of the ball, nor does it suggest that the talent evaluator has done a good enough job of adding talented and game-changing players to the defense. And considering the last two years have featured awful defenses, it’s a safe assumption that things won’t be much better next year unless serious changes are made.