Often times when looking at what a team does situationally you can’t always point out one specific statistic, or area of the roster that is responsible for their collective success. On the other hand, there are few situational points of reference in which we can point out almost exactly why they are unsuccessful. That crutch that the team simply cannot get over in order to turn their fortunes around.
This Indianapolis Colts team, however, absolutely has a couple big red areas that are correlating to their almost weekly demise. This rebuilt Colts defense has been good defending against the run (T-8th in yards per carry allowed at 3.9 YPC), has been stingy for extended periods defending the pass (15th in completion rate against at 61.9%) and there is legitimate growth there from previous seasons.
But, this defense has also allowed the most explosive plays through the air in the league (53 20-plus yard gains allowed) and are tied for 30th in the league in sacks as well. All of those could reasonably affect the game any given Sunday to lead towards victory or defeat. The real, tangible issue, however, is how many times they’ve let opposing offenses off the hook when they get them into third down situations of 7 yards or more.
Consistently the Colts are allowing teams to extend drives, often leading to points or a critical flip in field position when it counts the most. Despite the Colts growth from historically terrible defenses, they are still dead last in the league allowing 2.19 points per drive, according to Football Outsiders, and 29th in yards allowed per drive (35.03 YAPD).
Why? Naturally, third down inefficiency, but especially in third-and-long situations. There are few will-killers like allowing a 12-yard gain on third-and-11 especially when your offense isn’t exactly running up and down the field.
Right now, in third-and-7 or more, the Colts are ranked 29th with a first down percentage of 31%, have allowed 5 touchdowns in those situations (T-30th) and have only forced a single turnover with these stipulations putting them at 28th in the league.
Additionally, those big gains that they’re allowing come into play here as well as they are 28th in the league, allowing 7.16 yards per play in third-and-long situations. The turnover due to injuries of key pieces to the defense, and the youth and inexperience along with some occasional risks being taken in coverage have all contributed to the end result here.
We can appreciate, as Colts fans, that the team appears to be making strides with the pivotal offseason acquisitions, but when it all comes down to end result greatly improving these areas could not be more important for the remainder of the this season as well as the transition from year-one to year-two with next season’s unit.
Here’s to hoping for a couple steps being taken forward in 2018, with the combination of even more talent along with an improvement in coaching at the top.