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Week 4: Colts Defense by the Numbers

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Tennessee Titans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

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,, Football Outsiders, and the nflFastR project for being awesome sources of weekly data.

When the first 4 drives give up 3 touchdowns and a field goal, you know you are in for a rough defensive day. Fortunately, on the following Tennessee drive, a sack and the clock ended the Titan scoring for the half, and what eventually would be the game.

In the second half, the Titans could not move the ball, racking up only 28 net yards and 0 points, but the damage was already done.


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%

By actual points per drive, the defense ranked 26th on the week, but by expected points per drive, they fared better at 19th. Still not good, but I’ll take it.

Similar to previous weeks, the defense gave up first downs (18th 1st% against) but did not give up a lot of yards (6th yds/ply, 3rd yds/srs). They also limited explosive play yards (6th).

If we could get takeaways on top of all of that, then this formula would work . . . IF.


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

Tannehill had a meh day, which of course means the Colts had a meh passing defense. They were 14th in epa/d against and 18th in passing success rate against. They were bad at limiting passing first downs (24th 1st% against), but with the help of 3 sacks, they were good at limiting the yards (6th ny/d against).


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

The rushing game was basically the opposite: the Colts gave up a lot of yards (20th ypc against), but not a lot of first downs (13th 1st% against). That combines into a 19th-ranked adj. RSR against, which is the Colts’ worst mark this year.


The defense was on its heels early (partially due to excellent opponent field position) but then found its footing later. That means overall, this was basically an average effort, which mirrors the season totals, as I have the defense 16th by points per drive against (DVOA 13th).

Those results are dramatically different by phase though. I have the Colts 23rd against the pass (DVOA 27th) and on the ground, I have them 6th-best (DVOA 2nd). So, this defense is particularly vulnerable to good QBs.

Speaking of which, Russell Wilson and the Broncos will test the Colts defense Thursday night. The Denver offense has disappointed so far this year with a 29th-ranked points per drive and a 24th-ranked DVOA.

Wilson is a good QB, but he has been on a decline for the last few years. On the year, I have him 17th in epa/d, but only 29th in pass success rate. That is because he thrives on the infrequent explosive play that earns a lot of epa, but on the shorter throws, he is far more vulnerable. He holds the ball a long time waiting for those deep routes and takes a lot of sacks, so if our pass rush can get home, we can disrupt his game. However, if their receivers beat our secondary it will be game over. There is no better deep-ball passer than Wilson.

On the ground, Denver is pretty bad. They rank 28th in adj RSR and 26th in DVOA. On top of that, they just lost Javonte Williams for the season, so they are trending in the wrong direction. Against the superior Colts run defense, this could be a 1-dimensional Broncos team.

If we keep a lid on Wilson’s deep balls, I could see this being another low-score game for Denver.