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The Colts Defense Stumbles

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Pittsburgh Steelers 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.

This was one of the few games where the Colts’ defense had trouble. They gave up 22 first downs on 29 series for a 75.9% Drive Success Rate, which ranks in the 28th percentile of defensive performances this year.

The defense did not get any takeaways and they let 5 drives advance into scoring position.


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 22nd-ranked ppd against was driven by the 20th-ranked defensive first down conversion rate and the 28th-ranked epa per play against. However, in terms of yards, the Colts gave up the 7th-fewest yards per play and only 1 first down by penalty, so it is unusual that Pittsburgh had so much success with such poor drivers.


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

Against the pass, the Colts held Kenny Pickett to the 10th-worst epa per dropback and the 5th-worst net yards per dropback, yet he still managed the 8th-best success rate and the 13th-highest conversion rate. Basically, he converted series when it mattered even though they didn’t come off of big passes.

On the year, the pass defense continues to improve with the 10th-lowest epa per dropback given up and the 13th-ranked DVOA.


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

Against the run, the Colts were soft all game. The Steelers had the 7th highest conversion rate on the 13th-best YPC and the 4th-best epa per carry. Altogether, that puts the Colts' run defense at 26th in adj RSR on the week.

On the year, the run defense has slowly slipped from being one of the best in the league to being just above average. They are 15th in season adj RSR, yet DVOA gives them an 11th-best ranking.


This just wasn’t a good effort for the defense in a very winnable game. On the year, the defense is still pretty good ranking 13th in DVOA, which is pretty much in line with my epa/d and adj RSR measures.

The defense will next take on the Dallas Cowboys and their 15th-ranked offense (DVOA). Dallas scores the 8th-highest points per drive, but only the 16th-best Drive Success Rate. I call this “outscoring the DSR” and it has a strong reversion to the mean. In other words, it isn’t likely to continue. Either they have to bring their DSR up or their scoring is likely to come down.

DVOA ranks them only 16th through the air, but that includes 5 starts from Copper Rush. When measuring only Dak Prescott's games, he has the 2nd-highest epa per dropback of any QB and the 6th-highest passing success rate. Make no mistake, he is a very good QB.

With Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, the Cowboys have one of the best run games in the league, ranking 6th by DVOA and 7th in adj RSR. They are a run-first team that can get big yards on early downs.