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Week 17: Colts Defense by the Numbers

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NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Each week during the season, I will be walking through the data from the previous Colts game and 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.


Even though the defense managed to add 2 more takeaways to their impressive 2021 totals, the overall defensive effort wasn’t as imposing. 18 first downs on 25 series results in a league-average 72% DSR, and it shows the Colts defense was not that effective at stopping the Raiders from moving the chains.


TEAM TOTALS

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%

The defense played a disciplined game, giving up 0 penalties, but the 2.56 points per drive they yielded, only ranks 21st on the week. That result is mostly in line with 1st down conversion rate (18th 1st%), epa efficiency (20th epa/d), and yards per play (18th).

So, there are no real surprises or insight there: the defense gave up significant yards, which led to a lot of opponent first downs, which the Raiders turned into points. I will add that the offense and special teams didn’t help the defense much, as Las Vegas had the 10th best average starting field position.

On the year, the defense has given up the 15th fewest points per drive on the 17th least epa per play. However, in terms of yards per play, this team only ranks 23rd. The discrepancy there is takeaways. In other words, as long as this defense gets their takeaways, they can keep points off the board. But when they don’t force turnovers, they aren’t very good at stopping opponents.

DVOA ranks the defense 7th best in the league, which I think is a dramatic overrating. Again, takeaways are driving that number as opposed to pure ability to prevent the opponent from gaining yards.


PASS TOTALS

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

Following the trend of the defense being only as good as their takeaway count, Derek Carr had just average epa per drop-back (17th 0.15), but he had the 10th highest conversion rate of any QB. So, when he wasn’t throwing interceptions, he was throwing first downs.

For the season, the passing defense is 18th in epa/d against. That’s a bit lower than DVOA’s 14th rank.


RUSH TOTALS

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

On the ground, the story was more encouraging. The defense limited the Raiders run game to the 5th worst adjusted RSR. That was driven by the 10th lowest ypc and the 7th worst conversion rate (1st/c).

It is the same story for the season: a 3rd ranked aRSR agrees with a 3rd ranked DVOA.


CONCLUSION & LOOK AHEAD

This was not a good defensive effort, but it wasn’t bad either. I loathe the phrase “good enough to win”, but I can see people applying it to the defense here. Unfortunately, this is still a team that is vulnerable in the air, and if the Colts make the postseason, they will be facing some very good QBs.

However, to get to the postseason, the Colts have to beat the Jaguars. The Jacksonville offense is dead last in scoring at only 1.17 points per drive. DVOA likes them a bit more, ranking them 27th. In the last meeting, the Colts held them to 17 points.

Trevor Lawrence has had a rough rookie year. He is 29th in epa efficiency, 30th in yardage efficiency, and Football Outsiders ranks the Jaguar passing game 30th in DVOA. He has the 2nd highest turnover rate of any QB, which bodes well for a ball-hawking defense.

On the ground, the Jaguars are much better, but still not good. 18th in DVOA and 22nd in adj RSR should not strike fear into the 3rd best rushing defense.

Colts are 15.5 point favorites.