Every week, I will present a summary of some basic and advanced stats for the Colts performance relative to the league. Thanks to Pro Football Reference, NFL.com and the nflSCrapR project for being awesome sources of weekly data.
If it wasn’t for the defense, that game would have been unwatchable. I can’t believe I just wrote that. Last week, I said that the defense was Jekyll and Hyde and this week did not change my opinion. I saw some really good but I also saw some really bad.
It’s great to see players like Darius Leonard and Margus Hunt start to stand out, but as a unit I see many troubling habits that need broken before this defense isn’t . . . well, broken.
Overall, the Colts allowed the Eagles to consistently move the ball down the field. They put up four 75+ yard drives, earning 26 first downs along the way (5th most this week). That translates to a 74% DSR and that’s a problem.
On the other hand, the Colts defense countered that with 5 sacks and 2 turnovers deep in Philly territory, limiting opponent scores while assisting the offense. So while they weren’t great, they gave the offense a chance and held the reigning champs to 20 points . . . on the road . . . in the rain. And that’s not nothing.
Thanks to the turnovers and sacks, the Colts checked Philly to just 4.9 yds per play, and curbed their non-penalty first down conversions to 28.6%. 3rd down yards to gain and conversions were right around league average, so no glaring issues with any of that.
Then what’s the disconnect to giving up a high DSR? One issue was penalties.
Last week, the defense yielded 0 first downs by penalty. Against the Eagles, they let slip 4, two of which extended the game-winning TD drive. Sure, the refs had a couple of WTF calls, but against Cincy, the Colts’ D gave up 3 firsts on penalties, all of which occurred on 2 TD drives.
Now, 7 penalties for 1st downs after 3 games isn’t bad. It’s about average, tied at 18th in the league. But if you are going to employ a “bend don’t break” defense, you can’t be average. You absolutely cannot move the chains for your opponent.
In the one game where the Colts defense gave up 0 penalties, they looked outstanding. That’s not a coincidence.
Against the pass, the defense was solid.
Only 29% of Philly’s passes were for first downs and Wentz notched a 5.4 YPA both below league average. Explosive plays were limited, while 3 of the sacks and an INT helped stall 4 Eagle drives.
So that leaves the other reason Philly was so successful; the run game.
I know that the run game is a weakness in the defensive scheme that Eberflus has implemented and so perhaps poor run defense numbers can be expected. However these numbers are much worse than what we saw the first 2 weeks.
This week, the defense gave up 10 rushing first downs which is double Philly’s season average. That equates to 29% of all runs converting, up from the 21% mark Indy surrendered in weeks 1-2. Within all of that, Indy allowed the Eagles to go 3 for 3 on third downs.
6 of the Eagle runs went for 10+ yards for a total of 87 yards gained. In the weeks prior, the Colts defense limited explosive run plays to 2.8 per game for 46 yards.
Before this week, the Colt’s rush defense was about league average. This week was a big step backwards.
I don’t want to dismiss the offense’s culpability here. If we get TDs off of those turnovers instead of field goals then Philly probably passes more, which was being defended well. If 6 Indy drives totaling 16 yards and 9 minutes off the clock is instead 180 yards and 18 minutes spent, then maybe Philly doesn’t have time for a last drive.
But you have to play the hand you’re dealt and this week they played it by giving up frequent, long, sustained drives but also killing opponent efforts with sacks and turnovers. So, the real question is: Which part of that game is repeatable?
I don’t think we should expect 5 sacks and 2 turnovers every week. And I believe that if they can’t keep their their defensive penalties to less than 1 or 2 a game then long sustained opponent drives will become commonplace.
I guess I’m cautiously pessimistic.