Just How Good Is This Defense?

Last week as I watched Kevan Barlow barrel through defenders, conjuring up memories of Walter Payton, I began to question the legitimacy of the Colts' defense...

...Okay, I know what you're thinking. The Colts forced five turnovers against San Francisco, holding them to three points. The Colts have only given up two touchdowns this season.

But I just couldn't help myself.

Barlow looked like an All-Pro, running for 99 yards on 18 carries, averaging 5.5 yards per carry Sunday. Is the Colts' defense really what everyone was hyping them up to be?

That wasn't Edgerrin James. That wasn't Priest Holmes. That was Kevan "I averaged 3.3 yards per carry last season" Barlow.

So, again, I raised the question – how good is this Colts' defense?

I can remember Trent Dilfer looking like Peyton Manning in week three. I can remember both the Ravens and the Jaguars out-gaining the Colts in weeks one and two. I can remember Barlow running through Bob Sanders like he was imported from the Arena League.

Well, there is only one way to find out – compare them to last year. I don't think the Colts are necessarily a proven defensive powerhouse in the NFL, but comparing their numbers to last year definitely shows some improvement.

Here's how it breaks down for all you numbers junkies. Powerhouse? I don't think so. Pretty darn good? Quite possibly.

Painful Reminder

As if you don't remember, the Colts' defense was dreadful last year. It was horrid, sickening, frightful – every adjective that makes your spine tighten, cringe, shiver or want to scream. I think it's important we truly realize what are coming from.

The Colts' gave up an average of 370.6 yards per game last season. Cutting right down the middle, your opponent could average 185.3 yards passing and 185.3 yards rushing. In actuality, running backs were averaging 127.3 yards rushing, while quarterbacks were averaging 243.3 yards passing. I don't know which is worse.

Present Day

However, this year the Colts are not doing nearly as bad. Although they don't have near as much offensive production, their defensive numbers are respectable. How respectable? Indianapolis is allowing an average of 291.4 total yards per game, 104.4 rushing yards per game and 187 passing yards.

While all numbers are down, the substantial difference is in passing yards. The Colts young defense seems to be finally getting fully accustomed to Tony Dungy's cover-two scheme. The linebackers are dropping back, letting opponents chip away with the run, but refusing to give up the big bomb. This not only results in less passing yards, but also turnovers, which the Colts' have been getting.

The Colts already have forced 10 turnovers this season in five games. That's an average of 2 turnovers per game – pretty nice. Granted, they had five of those turnovers against the 49ers. But nevertheless, I'll still take that number.

The difference has been in the interceptions. The Colts already have eight interceptions this season, whereas all last season they only had 19. If Indianapolis stays on pace, they will have approximately 26 interceptions and 32 forced turnovers this season – not too bad.

As we all know, Cato June has played well this season. The Colts leading tackler last season is not on pace to have as many tackles as last year, but his interception numbers are way up. June is on pace to have approximately 102 tackles and 10 interceptions this season. Don't get me wrong, I will be shocked if that happens, but it's interesting to look at the numbers.

Another linebacker contributing to the Colts' defense this year is Gary Brackett. The Colts' leading tackler this season is averaging 9 tackles per game. If he stays on pace he will have 144 for the season. That's nearly 20 more tackles than June had last season – pretty impressive.

And let's not forget about the defensive line. This is probably the sole reason for the Colts' defensive improvement this year. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis were nasty last season. But Freeney, Mathis, Montae Reagor and Corey Simon are even more nasty this year.

The defensive front is the backbone of the cover-two defensive set. If they don't get into pressure the quarterback, if they don't get Simon's caboose through that offensive line, Dungy's defense simply doesn't work. It all starts up front.

Freeney and Mathis have been the sack masters, once again striking fear into opposing quarterbacks. Freeney already has five, while Mathis has six. Not to mention Reagor has four, and Larry Tripplett has two. The Colts have already amassed 20 sacks in five games. That's simple division and multiplication. If the defensive line stays on pace, Indianapolis will have 64 sacks on the season. And that, my friends, will be something to write home to mom about.

The obvious key difference this year is the Colts' scoring defense. The Colts gave up an average of 21.2 points per game last season, while only giving up an average of 5.8 points per game this season. That is a 72 percent drop-off from last season. That number is perhaps the most amazing of all.

I know it's early, and to be honest the Colts have not really played anyone, but you have to give credit where credit is due. All of the Colts' defensive numbers are better this year. They are giving up less yards, forcing more turnovers, getting more sacks – and most importantly – giving up far fewer points.

Kevan Barlow can run for 5.5 yards per carry. Trent Dilfer look like Johnny Unitas. As long as the Colts' get the win, it really doesn't matter.

The fact is – the Colts are still not an amazing, powerhouse, steel curtain defense. They've played the Ravens, Jaguars, Browns, Titans and 49ers. This is not the Steelers, Patriots, Eagles, Bengals and Falcons.

However, they are improving. Under Dungy, in a couple years, they might be the fear of the NFL.

That thought, well, that's just plain nasty.

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