Each week during the season, I will be walking through the data from the previous Colts game analyzing the numbers to form a sort of “what happened” narrative as well as comparing the Colts against all other teams in the league. For a glossary of the stats listed, reference Stats for the 2019 Season. Thanks to Pro Football Reference, NFL.com and the nflSCrapR project for being awesome sources of weekly data.
“Good enough to have won” is probably the right label to assign to the Indianapolis Colts defense in week 12 against the Houston Texans, but when your offense only musters 17 points it probably doesn’t matter.
Giving up 16 first downs is not a lot, but on only 22 series, that is below average defensive success (72.7% DSR). Similarly, surrendering 20 points is not bad, but on only 8 drives (ignoring the last) it’s not good either.
The defense forced only one 3 & Out and all but 3 of the Texans drives entered Colts territory. However, a timely sack, an interception and a forced turnover on downs kept it a one score game.
On the whole, this wasn’t bad but it was a below average performance.
By points against efficiency (Adj PPD), the defense ranked 20th and while it would be easy to simply blame that on 2 explosive TD plays, that wasn’t the only problem. The success metrics (18th DSR against, 17th 1st/ply against, 19th wTSR against) and the per play efficiency (21st EPA/ply against) show that the defense had difficulty all day.
The Texans managed 7 explosive plays and almost 400 yards of offense and when that happens, it’s hard to win those games. One way to do it, however, is to get turnovers (1 int, 1 downs) and not give up any first downs on penalties.
The Colts could not prevent Deshaun Watson from being the very good QB he is. 9.6 NY/A is the 5th best mark of any QB this week and he earned that by being successful on long passes (2nd aDOT, 1st aYd/cmp). Over 1⁄3 of his passes earned first downs which puts him in the top 10 (9th 1st/db).
Part of his success was a lack of pressure from the Colts. A QB that averages over 3 sacks a game, was only sacked once losing 1 yard on the play.
The defense found more success against the run, limiting the Texans to just 5 first downs, no TDs and the 10th worst success rate on the week (wRSR). Part of that success was limiting Watson to just 10 yards on the ground instead of his usual 30 yard average.
CONCLUSION AND NEXT MATCH-UP
This wasn’t a bad defensive game but compared to the 3 previous, it is a big drop-off. With an offense that looks limited by both injuries and skill, the defense is going to have to step it back up for the Colts to secure a playoff spot.
Next up is the Tennessee Titans with the reborn Ryan Tannehill at the helm. To call their offense a roller coaster ride may be an under-statement. See if you can guess which week was Tannehill’s first start.
Since week 7, they are 4th in scoring efficiency (Adj PPD) and 4th in per play efficiency (EPA/ply). Throw in top 5 rankings in the other stats that matter (5th DSR, 5th wTSR, 3rd 1st/ply) and you have a scary offense headed your way.
Since benching Marcus Mariota, Tennessee's passing game has been much improved ranking top 5 in the most critical passing stats (5th EPA/ply, 3rd wPSR, 2nd 1st/db, 1st NY/A). All the MVP talk about Lamar Jackson might be hiding the fact that Ryan Tannehill is playing like one of the best NFL QBs right now. I can’t believe I wrote that sentence non-sarcastically.
The Tennessee run game is less efficient (14th wRSR, 12th 1st/c) but the Titans have been leaning on it to the tune of 147 yards a game (1 more yard than the Colts) and with a 5th ranked EPA/c they get a lot of value on the ground, primarily from Derrick Henry who is 4th in rushing yards on the season.
This is going to be a really tough one for the Colts defense.