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Week 8: Colts Defense by the Numbers

The defense does its job and is once again let down by the offense.

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NFL: OCT 30 Commanders at Colts Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via 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.

On Sunday, the Indianapolis Colts defense held the Commanders in check on their first 9 drives, yielding just 1 TD to go along with 6 punts, an INT and a turnover on downs. Unfortunately, the defense softened on the last 2 drives giving up a field goal and a game winning TD.

It was a good overall defensive performance, though. A 69% Drive Success Rate against ranks in the 63rd percentile of all defensive efforts this season. You would think holding an offense to 17 points would be enough for a win, but . . . well, yeah.


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%

An 8th-ranked ppd against is right in line with the underlying drivers of DSR (10th) and EPA per play (10th). However, it is at odds with a 22nd ranked conversion rate.

The reason for that disconnect is that the defense did not give up any first downs on penalties, so the DSR calculation did not have any “additional” first downs to include. The lesson is that penalties have a big impact on a defense’s overall effectiveness.

On the season, this defense has the 11th-lowest ppd against and has given up the 9th-fewest average yards per game. Before this season, I wrote that the defense would likely regress in takeaways and therefore would have to get better at overall defense to make up for it. So far, they have done just that.


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

On the season, the Colts defense has been below average against the pass, and this game was somewhat more of the same. Taylor Heinicke managed the 11th-best net yardage efficiency (ny/d) and the 8th-highest conversion rate (1st%). However, the interception knocked his epa efficiency back which let the Colts defense rank 17th against the pass for the week.

On the year, I rank the pass defense 20th by epa efficiency against and Football Outsiders also ranks them 20th in DVOA.


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

The run game is usually where this defense shines and they showed it again on Sunday. For the week, they gave up the 7th-lowest ypc, the 5th-lowest conversion rate and the 5th-lowest epa per carry.

Adjusting all of that for game situation yields a 10th ranked adjusted RSR. That is in line with their season long rank of 8th. DVOA ranks them 6th so either we are both crazy or the run defense is pretty good.


In the last 2 games, the Colts defense has yielded 12 and 17 points and they were still losses. Clearly for the this team to win games, the defense has to play basically mistake free ball. That is a tall order even for a team that is top 10 in limiting opponent points.

The next test will be the New England Patriots offense, ranked 24th by DVOA. They are 20th in PPD and 24th in DSR, so all the numbers are pointing towards them not being very good.

On pass plays, they have the 19th ranked epa efficiency and 16th ranked success rate. DVOA calls them the 25th-best passing team so they must have had some easy opponents so far.

On the ground, DVOA has them as the 20th-best rushing offense. They are 18th in ypc, 17th in epa per carry, 20th in conversion rate and 23rd in unadjusted success rate. So, of course, my adjusted RSR number decides to rank them 6th. Yeah, I call B.S. on my own measure and agree with DVOA on this one.