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Week 9 Defensive Rankings and Analysis: A good defense is the best defense

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Indianapolis Colts v Carolina Panthers Photo by Kara Durrette/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.

It’s always nice when your defense puts up points, but even ignoring the two pick-6’s, the Indianapolis defense did a good job against Carolina in week 9. Sure, the Panther offense is one of the worst in the league, but I’m not going to fault the Colts for that.

13 Carolina points on 12 drives is an anemic 1.08 Points per Drive and is an 83rd percentile defensive performance. The Colts held the Panthers to 17 first downs on 27 series for a 63% Drive Sucess Rate, which is the 9th lowest of the week. Indy limited Carolina drives with 3 turnovers forcing an average of 22.2 yards per drive (5th lowest).


(Use the right-left arrows to toggle between stats for the week and the season).

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%

My Points per Drive metric nets offensive points with defensive scores, so the Colts actually held the Panther offense to -1 points on the week, which ranks them #1 in PPD and brings the Colts defense season total ranking to 21st (up from 25th).

Carolina couldn’t get yards (7th lowest yds/ply) and that made first downs difficult (8th lowest 1st/ply). The Colts didn’t give up any penalty first downs either and when you add in the aforementioned 3 turnovers, you get a lot of Panther drives that went nowhere.


(Use the right-left arrows to toggle between stats for the week and the season).

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

Pick-6’s are EPA killers, so its no surprise that Bryce Young had one of the worst EPA efficiencies of any QB this week (tied 3rd worst EPA/d). The impact of that performance was so dramatic that it lifted the Colts defensive season passing rank from 23rd to 15th.

Passer Success Rate gives equal weight to negative plays and so the impact of turnovers is not nearly as magnified in that metric. Even so, Young still had the 4th worst Success rate in week 9, which was his lowest value of the season. He was also sacked 4 times and had the 4th lowest yardage efficiency of the week.

Again, some may caveat this with the fact that Young has been one of the worst QBs in the league, but even so, this game was particularly bad for him and I’m going to give credit to the Colts defense for that.


(Use the right-left arrows to toggle between stats for the week and the season).

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

The Carolina run game was more problematic for the Colts. The Panthers had the 9th highest Adj Rushing Success Rate, comprised of the 9th highest YPC and 3rd highest conversion rate on carries.

The Colts weren’t very good at stopping the run, but fortunately game script forced Carolina to lean on the pass, running on only 35% of their snaps. Had the Colts fallen behind on the scoreboard, this might have been a very different story.

On the year, the Colts run defense ranks 24th.


This was a much-needed bounce-back game for the defense. I could certainly talk about their weakness against the run and dismiss the outcome due to a poor opponent offense, but I think I’m just going to enjoy this for a bit longer.

On paper, the Colts get another easy offense next in the New England Patriots, who are averaging the 2nd to worst Points per Drive of any team (1.04 ppd). Their 64.3% Drive Success Rate ranks 28th on the year. Their average yards is bad (24th yds/ply) and they turn the ball over a lot (24th).

Mac Jones ranks 28th in passing EPA efficiency with the 23rd ranked passing success rate. He’s putting up these poor numbers against only the 28th ranked pressure. Part of that is that Belichick is having him throw super-quick, short passes and relying on YAC to get their passing yards (30th ttt, 23rd adot). The Colts pass rush might not have time to sack him, but maybe they can force some errors.

The Patriots run game isn’t much better, ranking 24th in adj Rush Success Rate, but then again the Colts are pretty bad against the run so this is basically an even match-up. The Pats have the 19th ranked Yards per Carry, but they leverage the run well on 3rd downs with the 6th best 3rd down rushing conversion rate. That could be problematic for a Colts’ run defense that is below average on 3rd downs. Let’s hope the Pats get in a hole early and have to abandon the run.