2. THE INDIANAPOLIS COLTS HAVE HAD THE BEST DEFENSE IN THE NFL THROUGH FOUR WEEKS
It’s not something most people expected coming into this season, but the Colts’ defense has been the best in the league statistically through the first quarter of the 2020 NFL season. They rank first in both yards per play allowed (4.4) and expected points added allowed per play (-0.14) through the first four weeks.
Part of that is a favorable schedule against the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, but the Colts’ play itself shouldn’t be discounted. Several offseason additions have paid dividends early. DeForest Buckner has been the team’s best defensive linemen, posting a team-high 15 quarterback pressures and a 90.7 overall grade through four weeks. Success from him was to be expected, though. The bigger and more surprising development has been a resurgence of sorts from former Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Rhodes ‘ 82.0 PFF grade ranks third among cornerbacks this season. He has combined for nearly as many interceptions and forced incompletions (five) as he has first downs allowed in coverage (six), and he has been charged with just one penalty thus far. I wrote prior to the season about how the Colts’ defense was as good a spot as any for him to turn things around, and that’s exactly what he’s doing.
Indianapolis will be hoping that the groin injury that took Darius Leonard out of the game Sunday is minor because he continues to fly around the field and make plays. His 81.6 PFF grade so far this season ranks third at the linebacker position. Despite their early loss to Jacksonville in Week 1, the Colts look like real challengers to the top of the AFC. The play from their defense is a big reason why.
Now, there should be a caveat that the Colts defense hasn’t exactly played an elite starting quarterback (or prolific offense) yet for that matter, having faced the likes of Gardner Minshew (Jaguars), Kirk Cousins (Vikings), Sam Darnold (Jets) and Nick Foles (Bears) behind center.
That being said, the Colts defense doesn’t get to pick their schedule and outside of Week 1’s poor letdown performance, the unit has dominated on a weekly basis.
The Colts defense has been able to control the line of scrimmage and generate pressure with their front four—namely DeForest Buckner, Justin Houston, Grover Stewart, and Denico Autry with other rotational defensive linemen factoring in.
That has allowed their speedy linebackers such as All-Pro Darius Leonard and rising standout Bobby Okereke to fly to the football—while key members of their secondary such as Xavier Rhodes, Khari Willis, and breakout rookie Julian Blackmon continue to make plays on the backend.
Even despite surrendering their 2020 first round pick, the acquisition of another All-Pro, defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, has so been worth it for Indy and more—as he’s been a dominant interior force anchoring the Colts defensive line to start 2020:
DeForest Buckner in Week 4 vs. the Bears:— PFF IND Colts (@PFF_Colts) October 5, 2020
90.6 PFF grade (4th-highest-graded defender league-wide in W4)
5 QB pressures (3 hits + 2 hurries) pic.twitter.com/1vyLn4oIBw
While the Colts defense should be tested a bit more in the coming weeks, with superstar quarterbacks Lamar Jackson (Ravens) and Aaron Rodgers (Packers) coming up a little later on their schedule, the unit is playing some really good football collectively right now.
Their stoutness against the run, consistent pass pressure, speed, and athleticism is well apparent—as there are a number of white helmets seemingly always around the football.