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Colts’ defense doing it right in early stages of roster rebuild

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Right now the Indianapolis Colts have a lot going for them. Andrew Luck and the offense have been fantastic in nearly every aspect over the past several games. Everyone who holds Colts fandom is in love with Frank Reich and Chris Ballard looks to be the right fit for acquiring the right talent to fit what the Colts are hoping to accomplish.

However, the Colts defense is such an interesting unit right now. Yes, they’re allowing a ton of yards per game (364 YPG — 20th) and have allowed 30 points in 4 of the team’s 10 games, and their third-down percentage has gone way down over the course of the season. On the other hand, though, they’re doing a lot right that is absolutely having an impact on their ability to win games.

First, we have to acknowledge the talent. Darius Leonard should absolutely be in the running for defensive rookie of the year. Anthony Walker is ascending as a very good MIKE backer within the scheme, and Kenny Moore is the best cover corner on the team and is vastly underrated throughout the league — just to name a few.

With all of what you can say in the negative about the defense, they’re doing a lot right and it shouldn’t be tossed aside among other stats.

Right now the Colts are 14th in the league allowing 5.6 yards per play. That’s not bad at all, especially when you consider the scheme that’s in place. They’re also 6th in the league allowing only 3.9 yards per attempt on the ground. Does anyone need to reminding of how terrible the Colts run defense was in the 3-4 scheme from the Pagano era which is literally designed to stop the run? Didn’t think so.

And while we will always look at points allowed, and understand that the Colts are giving up some high-scoring games, they’re 18th in the league right now allowing 24.9 PPG in a league that is as offensively biased as we’ve ever seen. A few teams allowing more than the Colts: The Rams, Panthers, Jets, Bengals and Bills — all teams who have some real playmakers and high draft picks being established in longstanding schemes.

But there’s a few more that I think hold a great amount of importance to what the Colts are accomplishing and trying to build as true staples of their defense.

The Colts are 4th in turnovers forced per drive right now. The team has proven that they are absolutely going to turn over every team they play, and there have been a few of them that quite literally have been the difference in the win-loss column for the team. Opportunistic, is not a four-letter word in the NFL, it becomes a mindset that gets contagious throughout the unit. Right now, it’s making a big difference for the Colts.

After a strong start to the season, the Colts’ pressure on quarterbacks took a bit of a hiatus over the past few weeks only accruing 4 sacks between Week’s 5-10. But, even with that the Colts are smack-dab in the middle of the NFL (tied for 15th) with 26 sacks on the season. The only question to be asked is if they can get back into the saddle after a big 5-sack game against the Titans this past Sunday.

Another aspect that has been flying under the radar a bit is the team’s penalty situation. Sure, the Colts aren’t tops in the league in fewest penalties on the defensive side of the ball, however, there’s something about those penalties that aren’t really hurting the team. In fact, it’s helping them.

The Colts aren’t allowing their penalties to extend opponent’s drives, and with a few other things about the defense lacking, that’s a very big deal. Currently, the Colts are allowing 1.4 first downs via penalty per game which is tied for 6th in the league. This is far better than the Colts had been under Pagano, and even since the last time the team employed a 4-3 scheme, 2011 if you can believe that.

As I said, the defensive unit isn’t a complete group, and they’ve got their flaws. But, they are definitely seeing that they are doing some important things in the initial stages of this rebuild and change in scheme on that side of the ball. Matt Eberflus appears to understand the pieces that he has available to him and is instilling the right mindset within the group as well.

This group will continue to be fun to watch as the season hits the back stretch of the season.