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I Feel Bad For the Colts Defense

The Colts are the Titanic and the defensive players are the brave musicians performing while the ship settles quietly, lower and lower into the sea.

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots Brian Fluharty-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,, Football Outsiders, and the nflFastR project for being awesome sources of weekly data.

Twenty-six points is deceiving, but the underlying numbers are not. The Colts defense jammed up the Patriots for most of the day, but the offense and special teams gave away points like it was Halloween candy.

Take away a pick-6 and a blocked punt, which all but gave the Patriots a touchdown, and you are left with only 12 opponent points, 6 of those, which came on drives that started in New England territory.

The Colts defense held the Patriots to only 11 first downs for a 47.8% drive success rate. That’s a defensive performance that is in the 98th percentile of all NFL games this year. Of the 11 New England drives that started in Colts territory, only 3 made it past midfield and one of those started on the 48, gaining only 5 total yards.

I mean, what more can you ask a defense to do? The fact that this level of effort is rewarded with a blowout loss is beyond infuriating: it is just sad.


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%

For the week, the Colts yielded the 8th-fewest points per drive, and that includes the blocked punt TD. By DSR, though, they ranked as the 3rd-best defense, which is a more appropriate measure of their effort. Here are some other accolades for the defense:

  • 2nd fewest yards and yards per play against
  • 2nd lowest epa per play given up
  • 3rd lowest conversion rate
  • For the 2nd week in a row, they didn’t give up any first downs on penalties.

On the year, the defense ranks 10th in points per drive against and 9th in DSR against. That matches pretty well with a 11th-ranked DVOA.


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

Mac Jones did not have a good day. In fact, only Sam Ehlinger was worse on the week.

The Colts defense gave up the 2nd-least amount of EPA per dropback to go along with the 4th-lowest pass success rate. They limited passing yards with the 3rd-lowest ny/d against and that helped keep the chains from moving as Jones had the 3rd-lowest passing conversion rate of any QB.

That is actually contrary to the first part of the season, when the Colts passing defense was a little leaky. However, after games against Washington and New England, they have now boosted their season epa/d against to 11th place. Because those improvements came against weaker passing teams, Football Outsiders is not as impressed, ranking the Colts pass defense 17th in DVOA. Quite frankly, I’ll take it.


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

The Colts’ strength against the run continues, forcing the 7th-lowest yards per carry and the 8th-lowest epa per carry. The Pats did manage a handful of rushing first downs, so by conversion rate the Colts D only ranks 12th, but overall their adjusted success rate ranking is 8th (adj RSR).

On the year, that bumps up to a 7th best aRSR against with a 5th ranked defensive rushing DVOA.


The defense continues to be one of the only bright spots on what has to be considered a lost season. They aren’t dominant, but they are capable. Last year, they did it with takeaways, but this year they are doing it by just preventing opponents from driving down the field.

Up next is the Raiders offense that has the 12th-most points per drive this year. Football Outsiders is not as impressed, ranking them 18th.

This will be an interesting matchup as they have a strong run game (5th DVOA), but a below-average pass game (20th DVOA). So, it will be strength on strength and weakness on weakness.