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 Season Stats. Thanks to Pro Football Reference, NFL.com, Football Outsiders and the nflFastR project for being awesome sources of weekly data.
Lately, the Colts defense hasn’t been “bend-don’t-break” so much as it has been “bend-and- cross-your-fingers”. If you were wondering what the Colts defense of the last several weeks would look like without the ridiculously well-timed takeaways, this game was it.
Like the offense, the defense looked mostly great in the first half and mostly atrocious in the 2nd. They gave up 26 first downs on the day, with 22 of them coming after half-time adjustments. That’s just rolling over.
21st in points per drive against lines up well with DSR (23rd) and first down conversion rate (23rd). Defensive EPA/ply ranks a bit higher at 16th, which is driven by the goal-line stand which was a large negative EPA series (negative EPA is good for defense).
Like I did with the offense, I’ve replaced the season total chart with the trailing 6-week numbers. In that time frame, the Colts defense ranks 25th in points per drive given up. Again, that is similar to the supporting metrics: DSR (24th), EPA/ply (23rd), and 1st/ply (29th).
Teams have not had any problems getting first downs and linking them together to move down the field and score. It is only the 4th ranked takeaways that have prevented those performances from being much, much worse.
The 16th ranked EPA/db against is driven by that goal-line stand. The last 3 plays on that drive were incomplete passes that removed -5.4 EPA from Pittsburgh’s numbers, which should somewhat make sense as they were expected to get 6 points but didn’t.
By yardage efficiency (NY/db), the defense ranked 19th and in passing first down conversion rate they were 18th. PSR ranked 22nd reflecting the high number of successful pass plays that Pittsburgh was allowed.
Over the last 6 weeks, the defense is 23rd in passing EPA efficiency, 28th in passing yardage efficiency, 29th in passing success rate and 23rd in passing first down conversion rate. It’s a small miracle that we won 4 of those games.
Pittsburgh barely ran the ball, so there isn’t much to measure here. Yards per carry was low, but giving up a TD and 4 first downs on 14 carries is a bad percentage defensively. Adjust that for the game situation and the Colts run defense was 25th.
Over the last 6 weeks, the numbers are similar to passing: 21st adjusted RSR, 21st EPS/c, 30th first down conversion rate. They have not been good against the run.
CONCLUSION AND LOOK AHEAD
A good defense is much harder to maintain than a good offense. Historically, there is a lot more variance on that side of the ball. Hopefully, the team can get back to where they were in the first half of the year, but this game wasn’t it.
The Colts book-end the regular season with another game against the Jaguars. The Jacksonville offense is better than their defense but not by much as Football Outsiders ranks them 27th in offensive DVOA. I have them 28th in net points per drive and 29th in DSR, so you’ll get no disagreement from me.
2020 has been an interesting QB season in Jacksonville. They started with Gardner Minshew, who wasn’t that good in 2019, and Surprise! he wasn’t that good this year either. After a Minshew thumb injury, they tried Jake Luton and Surprise! he’s not very good either. So, he was benched for Mike Glennon and Surprise! he’s Mike Glennon. So, he was benched for Gardner Minshew (yes, the very same one!). Then Minshew was benched 2 games later for . . . wait for it . . . Mike Glennon! And that who is scheduled to start week 17, although I wouldn’t be shocked if they end up calling me to take a few snaps.
FO ranks JAX 26th in passing and I am amazed, that given their carousel of QBs, there are 6 worse passing teams. I also have them 26th in EPA per dropback (with the same worse 6 teams). On the ground, FO likes them more than I do, ranking them 19th in DVOA as opposed to my 29th ranked adj RSR.
I look for the Colts defense to rebound in this game, but I also expect that to mask what might be a terminal weakness.