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Week 1: Colts Defense by the Numbers

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

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, and the nflSCrapR project for being awesome sources of weekly data.

Gauging the play of a team from a single game is always a difficult task. There are a lot of unrepeatable variables that can impact performance. One of those variables is when your defense goes up against a high caliber QB like Philip Rivers.

Is what we saw last Sunday due to Rivers being good or is it simply that the Colts defense put up an insanely idiotic effort that at no point in their rambling incoherent response to the Chargers was there anything that could be considered rational play and everyone is now worse for having watched it? Ehhh, to-ma-to, to-mah-to.

I mean, that’s just bad. It started off good with a 3 & Out, but then giving up 24 points in 4 straight drives sort of takes the wind out of one’s sails. After that first stop, the Chargers consistently drove deep into Colts territory, with over half their drives entering the red zone.

Giving up an 83% DSR and 3 points per drive in regulation just isn’t going to win many games. The offense gave the team a chance to steal one and the defense said, no thanks.


Where to start? The 25th ranked points and points per drive against? How about the 30th ranked expected points against or the 31st ranked DSR against?

No, I think I’ll start with the 10 explosive plays for 252 yards given up. For those keeping score at home, that is almost 1 in 5 plays that averaged 25 yards. I guess that is the “bend” part.

Fortunately, on a drive that contained two of those explosive plays, Malik Hooker made a one handed interception preventing 7 more points from finding their way to the Chargers.

Let’s move on.


The good news is that against the passing game, there is at least one stat where the Colts defense wasn’t completely terrible. Rivers was held to a 17th ranked EPA/db thanks to Hooker’s pick and the 4 sacks ( I think I once saw Hooker’s Pick and the 4 Sacks open for the Rolling Stones). However, by weighted passer success rate against, the Colts defense ranking fell all the way to 28th, so there’s that.

The disconnect in those numbers is primarily the large impact of those 5 big defensive plays. On the other 33 passing plays, the defense didn’t do so well and so the rate of preventing success was poor abhorrent. This is mirrored in the NY/A against, YPA against and 1st% against, which ranked 23rd, 23th and 24th respectively.

Well, so much for the good news. Let’s talk about the rushing defense.


25th in wRSR is not good but you know what is worse? Giving up a first down on 43% of opponent rushes (ranked 31st) including letting them go 3 for 3 on third downs. That’s just a recipe for . . . well, for something that doesn’t taste good metaphorically.

Let’s see, no forced fumbles, 4 explosive rushes, forgo 9 first downs . . . yep, nothing good to see here. Move along.


This ain’t gonna cut it. If your QB is going to be a game manager, then your defense has to step up. We’ve got no use for bend AND break. This game never got out of hand but it was an outstanding interception away from getting there.

Next week, the Colts D has a chance to redeem themselves against the Titans, who hung 43 points on the Browns. At first glance, that’s an impressive total but 9 of those points came from a pick 6 and a safety. The TEN defense further helped with 14 points as another 2 INTs gifted Marcus Mariota very short fields. 7 points came from a drive that was extended by 4 Cleveland penalties and another 7 was from a screen pass that broke for 75 yards.

So, 37 of those points, were from drives that really had nothing to do with how good or bad the Titan offense is. Because of that, even though TEN put up the 2nd most points of the week, their expected points off of total game play ranked much lower (xOPPD 11th) and the other critical offensive measurements weren’t nearly as good (DSR 16th, EPA/ply 16th, wTSR 21st, 1st% 21st). So while the outcome was a lot of points, the manner in which TEN scored them wasn’t pretty or impressive . . . or repeatable.

Mariota’s EPA/db and wPSR both ranked 15th. And from a rushing perspective, TEN was 18th in wRSR and 17th in 1st%, so again right around average. It’s almost like this game will be a blank canvas onto which our defense can paint their true colors. Ooph, what a horrible metaphor to end with. Appropriate.