The Colts enter 2020 with a defense that, in theory, is the best one they’ve had from top to bottom since the days of Freeney and Mathis in their prime. Not since 2005 has this team had so much talent across its defense, and it isn’t a tough argument to say that they are a more talented group by a good margin that that defense was.
For this team, the effectiveness of the defense will likely be measured in terms of takeaways. It is no secret that the Colts front office has desired a team that can take the ball away. Chris Ballard talked about this ahead of the 2019 season as a major area they needed to improve in order to take that next step as a defense.
In 2019, the Colts took the ball away 23 times. Nine teams had more takeaways on the year, with the Steelers taking the top spot with 38. They’ll look to climb that list even further in 2020.
According to defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, the best way to generate those takeaways is by way of pressure from the defensive front, which they believe they have improved enough to count on paying dividends.
“I bet if you look at the numbers – and we’ve looked at those numbers in the past – those takeaways happen in the pocket most of the time.”
This team’s strength on defense is certainly its front seven. While the Colts trading for DeForest Buckner represented a major move of the kind we haven’t seen in the Ballard era, it has also gone as a somewhat understated acquisition. His impact up front is not expected to be small. Buckner was arguably the best of a very talented defensive line for the San Francisco 49ers in 2019, and he’s shown so far through camp why that was.
With a very good linebacker corps and a talented defensive line, there is plenty of reason to be excited for the pressure and disruption this group should create. Their goals for the season aren’t small in that regard, either, as linebacker Anthony Walker outlined recently.
“I think you can never not have that on your mind with Coach (Matt) Eberflus as your coach. I think that’s just everyday – literally, ball-hawk, that’s the first thing we walk into in our meeting room as a defense. That’s the first thing that’s up on the board – ball-hawk, ball-hawk, ball-hawk, showing the turnover chart every day. If you’re going to play in this defense, that has to be your mindset. I think as far as the emphasis on it, that’s every day. That’s throughout the whole day and camp and everything like that. We’re excited to actually go against another opponent next week and put that display on board. Our whole mantra this year has been trying to get 40-plus takeaways. We believe we have the guys on our defense to do that.”
In the 2019 season, 10 of the top 12 teams in turnover differential made the playoffs. That isn’t conclusive evidence by any means, but what is conclusive is that when you turn the ball over less than you create turnovers, you give yourself a better chance to win games. If this Colts team can come even close to their goal of 40 takeaways this season, they’ll put themselves in a great spot to win lots of games.
We won’t really know how committed or successful this defense will be in creating turnovers until real games begin, but the good news is, we only have to wait until Sunday for that.