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Week 11: Colts Defense by the Numbers

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-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 Season Stats. Thanks to Pro Football Reference,, Football Outsiders, and the nflFastR project for being awesome sources of weekly data.

3 offensive turnovers and 2 missed field goals adds up to a low scoring day for the Bills, but when they weren’t shooting themselves in the foot, they were actually moving the ball fairly well against the Colts defense.

19 first downs on 25 series for a 76% DSR is an above average series conversion (63rd percentile). So, it wasn’t bad drives that killed Buffalo, it was the egregious endings to those drives that killed their point production.

I’m not trying to minimize the impact of the Colts defense, they were the ones that made those turnovers happen. But let’s put it in perspective: on the 5 non-turnover drives, only once did the Colts force a punt.

That his is how the defense has been playing all year. They let opponents move the ball hoping for a mistake. Fortunately, they lead the league in takeaways.


Mouseover for definitions: Adj PPD, Team PPG, Off PPG, Yds, P/R%, DSR, yds/srs, Strt Fld, xOPPD, yds/ply, EPA/ply, adj TSR, 1st/ply, Pen 1st/ Yds, 3DC, 3rd ytg, Expl Plys, TO, TOP%

Their points per drive places them right in the middle of week 11 performances (15th). This aligns nicely with their 16th ranked epa per play.

For other stats that don’t fully count the value of turnovers, the defense did worse: 19th DSR, 22nd yards per play, 22nd success rate, 22nd first down conversion rate. That is basically a glimpse of what the game would have been like without the interceptions.

So this is a hard game to truly judge the defense. Yes, they got 3 turnovers and gave up only 15 points, which is great and for this game that is all that matters. However, for future games, the manner in which they held the Bills to those points matters and in that, they weren’t great.

On the year, the Colts are 14th in points per drive given up and 16th in epa per play against. But again, turnover agnostic stats aren’t as good (23rd yards per play). DVOA calls this the 9th best defense in the league. I call that . . . generous.


Mouseover definitions: EPA/db, PSR, Cmp, Att, Yds, TD, Int, Sk, Sk Y, 1st/db, ny/d, cmp %, aDOT, cpoe, YBC, YAC, 20+ #/Yd

Josh Allen’s 2 picks tanked his epa and when you throw in another one from Trubisky the Bills finished with their worst epa per drop-back on the year, which puts the Colts passing defense at #10.

On the other hand, passing success rate shows that 52.4% of Bills drop-backs were successful plays and that ranks only 19th. Continuing with the Frankenstein metrics, the defense was 10th in net yards per drop-back, but 19th in first down conversions given up. So, they were both good and bad at the same time.

On the year, the picture is much more straight-forward:

  • 25th epa/d against
  • 26th passer success rate against
  • 25th 1st down conversion rate against
  • 22nd net yards per drop-back against

DVOA says the passing defense is 20th. I say thank you for the kind ranking.


Mouseover definitions: adj RSR, Yds, Car, TD, 1st, Fum Lost, RSR, 1st/c, YPC, 10+ #/Yd, 3rd, 3DC, epa/c,

Game script prevented the Bills from rushing much, but on an efficiency basis they found success. However, since they only ran it 12 times, I’m not sure I care much how efficient they were. But since I’m here, I guess I’ll do the math anyway.

They had the 3rd highest conversion rate, the second highest yards per carry and the #1 epa per carry. When adjusted for situation, that results in the 7th best aRSR, which puts the Colts run defense at 24th. Big whoop.

On the year, the Colts run defense still dominates. I have them #2 in aRSR and Football Outsiders concurs with a #2 DVOA rank.


I know the tone of this was a bit negative and that isn’t entirely fair of me. 15 points against one of the best offenses in the league is an impressive feat worthy of praise.

Buuuuuut . . .

Turnovers are events that have huge regression to the mean. Over the next 6 games, I will be very surprised if the Colts can maintain 2.3 turnovers per game. And if that they can’t maintain that rate, then what? Hope for more missed field goals? On drives that don’t end in turnovers, the Colts defense ranks 26th in points per drive surrendered. That should make you as uncomfortable as it does me.

Speaking of things that keep me up at night, Tom Brady is coming to Lucas Oil. The Buccaneers have the 2nd highest points per drive and the #1 DVOA. They rank 3rd in DSR and 1st in epa per play. Basically, winter is coming.

Through the air, the good news is that their QB is 44 years old. That’s it. That’s all the good news. Everything else is bad news: #1 passing DVOA, #4 epa/d, #3 1st%, #7 ny/d. Brady does have a higher turnover rate than normal, likely due to Arians deep ball scheme (phrasing?) This year, he has the 9th highest rate of passes over 20 yards, which is much higher than his last 2 years in NE where he was 22nd. So maybe, if we wish upon a star, we can get a couple of picks of of those deep throws. If not, then all is lost.

On the ground the Bucs are also annoyingly good with a #9 aRSR and #5 DVOA. They have the lowest rush/pass split in the league (33/67) and against a great Colts rush defense, I don’t see that changing.

Tampa Bay is favored by 3.