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Indy Defense Contains Justin Herbert In Futile Effort

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NFL: Los Angeles Chargers 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,, Football Outsiders, and the nflFastR project for being awesome sources of weekly data.

Coming into week 16, the Los Angeles Chargers offense had a season average Drive Success Rate of 71.9% with 19.5 first downs per game. The Colts held the Chargers below both of those marks, giving up only 17 first downs for a 68.0% DSR. The Colts defense also managed 2 takeaways and 4 sacks in a game that was a return to form after 2 disastrous games where they gave up 86 combined points.

Unfortunately, the game was over after the Chargers first found the endzone as only a shutout was going to win this one.


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 Colts gave up 2.0 PPD, which ranks 18th of all defenses. That result was impacted somewhat by Los Angeles having the week’s 6th best starting field position. In terms of Expected Points per Drive (xOPPD), which adjusts for field position, the Colts defense moves up 3 spots to 15th.

Indy held the Chargers to the 13th lowest yard total and the 11th lowest yards per play, but giving up big plays in crucial situations led to only a 24th ranked EPA per play against.

On the year, the defense ranks 15th on PPD against, but 8th best in xOPPD. This disparity is driven primarily by opponents having the 6th best field position and suggests the true defensive ranking is probably somewhere in the middle. Football Outsiders agrees giving the Colts defense the 10th best defensive 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

The Colts held Justin Herbert to the 12th worst EPA per dropback and thanks to 4 sacks, the 14th lowest net yards per dropback. The Colts defense also forced a fumble and picked Herbert once.

Herbert had difficulty getting first downs with the 10th lowest passing conversion rate and he could not find the endzone. He did manage to complete a couple of deep passes on 2 scoring drives, but overall the Colts defense confined Herbert’s production to mediocrity.

On the year, I have the Colts 14th in EPA/d and Football Outsiders ranks them 13th against the pass.


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

The run game is another story. The Chargers went 3 for 5 on rushing 3rd down conversions and punched in 2 rushing TDs. While the Colts held the Chargers to the 12th lowest YPC, they also gave up 8th highest EPA/c and the league’s highest success rate on runs.

All of that combines to a 30th ranked Adjusted RSR, which is far worse than their season average 16th place. Football Outsiders ranks the run defense 15th.


Over the curse [sic] of the year, the defense has become much better against the pass, but worse against the run. If I split the season into Weeks 1-8 and 9-16, the Colts passing defense increased from 20th to 7th (EPA/d) and the run defense dropped from 7th to 22nd (aRSR). If that sounds like it washes out to about average in both phases, you are correct.

Next up, the Colts defense takes on a New York Giants squad that ranks 15th in offensive DVOA. I rank them a bit lower with a 17th place PPD and a 19th xOPPD.

As much grief as Daniel Jones gets, he has led his team to the 10th best passing DVOA and 11th best EPA/d. He likes to scramble and he doesn’t turn the ball over. On the ground, Football Outsiders calls the Giants the 9th best rushing team (DVOA). I have them at 12th best (aRSR), but that isn’t adjusted for opponent.

In either phase, this is going to be a challenge.