The Monday Run-Defense Blues

After the Colts' second loss of the season, the media and some fans are banging the drum about the Colts run defense again. Ed Thompson explains why they need to get beyond that thinking with his analysis and commentary.

It's Monday.

Must be time to bemoan the Colts lack of a run defense again.

After all, that's become the knee-jerk reaction of the media and fans alike this season. I think a special toll-free number should be set up for Colts fans on Mondays.

"Press one to talk about the Colts current dismal ranking last against the run."

"Press two to point fingers at the players you think are most responsible for missed tackles and who should be replaced."

"Press three to find out how to jump on the bandwagon with others that don't believe this Colts team can win a Super Bowl with such an awful run defense."

Well, I've got news for anyone who thinks the run defense was responsible for Sunday's loss. The Colts didn't lose on Sunday, or against the Cowboys a couple of weeks ago because they couldn't stop the run. Or because of their defense period for all that matter.

I know this sounds pretty simple, but correct me if I'm wrong. Games are won and lost based on the number of points you score and surrender.

Now I'm pretty sure I'm right about that. Because I can't remember the last time the league awarded a team a win because they ran up more yards than the other.

The Colts gave up 382 yards yesterday while the Titans defense surrendered 451. Who won the game? The team with the most points, the Titans.

Was it tough watching Vince Young dance his way to 78 yards of rushing while moving the chains? Sure. But NFL teams are going to have to get used to it. He ran for 69 yards the previous week against the Giants. He's going to get those yards.

Did you know that the Colts gave up more total yards earlier this year to the Giants (433) and the Broncos (396) than they did against the Titans? And Indianapolis won both of those games, simply because they scored more points.

So what's the obsession amongst the media and some fans with yards gained by ground, air, sea or otherwise? Offensive and defensive rankings based on number of yards don't mean squat when it comes to who gets the win at the end of the game.

The 20 points the Colts defense gave up on Sunday against Tennessee is right on par with what they've given up per game all year while the team has posted a 10-2 record. Their 20.9 yards per game 17th in the league. That's about average.

And that's about what the Colts defense is this year...average.

They're not so awful that they can't beat other talented teams -- as some are saying today -- even if they do give up 200 yards rushing. That's evidenced by the fact that both the Broncos and Jets ran for over 200 yards against the Colts and neither one of them got a win out of the deal.

I'd even understand this manic obsession with yards allowed per game if folks were at least taking a look at total yards allowed per game instead of just rushing yards. And guess what? If you take a moment to look at that stat, the team is ranked 17th defensively in total yards.

They're average.

For those who are still convinced that the Colts could leave the defense at home for this weekend's game in Jacksonville and give up about the same amount of rushing yardage, consider this scenario.

Let's take a team with a good reputation for having a strong defense based on their stats. The Chargers are ranked 6th against the rush and 13th against the pass. Wouldn't that be amazing for the Colts to have a defense like that? There would be no stopping them if a defense like that was paired up with Peyton Manning's offense, right?

Well guess what? That Chargers defense is giving up 19.8 points per game. That's just 1.1 point less per game that that awful, stinking Colts defense that is ranked last in the NFL against the rush.

Now if you're thinking, "how about a defense like the Bears or the Ravens," that wouldn't be a fair comparison at all. They have the opposite problem. They both have average offenses taking the field when their stellar defenses leave it.

There's only so much cap money to spread around. So don't expect the Colts defense to be like either of those teams until they say goodbye to some high-priced offensive talent and spread the wealth evenly.

Last year the Colts finished the year ranked 16th against the run and 15th against the pass. Were you happier with that? You still believed they could make a Super Bowl run with that defense, right?

Well, they gave up 307 yards per game while posting those rankings versus 323 yards per game this year. Surrendering 16 extra yards per game isn't going to make it that much tougher for this team to win a Super Bowl than last year. And unless my memory serves me wrong, in most of the playoff implosions, it's been the performance of the offense, not the defense, that has been a key factor in the losses.

Maybe some would argue that by teams running more effectively against the defense this year while racking up those 300-plus yards per game, they're keeping Peyton Manning on the sidelines by keeping the clock moving. That's what the media repeats from week to week, isn't it?

Well, last year, when the Colts had those more balanced rankings against the run and the pass, the offense had possession of the ball for an average of 30 minutes per game. This year, they've had the ball for 29 minutes per game. Yesterday, while the Titans racked up over 200 yards of rushing, the Colts offense had the ball for 31 minutes.

So they had their fair share of minutes with the football.

All that said, the Indy defense has failed to match a key stat from last year that really does matter -- how many points they've allowed per game. Last year the Colts finished second in the league in points allowed (15.4) per game. That's right, even though they were allowing a whopping 307 yards of offense per game, they were second-best in the league in points allowed.

You might be wondering -- like I was -- that if the Colts defense is only allowing 16 more yards per game, what's contributing to the dropoff in points allowed? Well it's not turnovers. The Colts are on pace to finish the season with the same number of fumble recoveries (13) as last year. And at their current pace they will notch 17 interceptions compared to 18 last year.

The one glaring performance stat that has dropped significantly that can certainly have an impact on the scoreboard is sacks. When a team registers a sack, it's often on a third-down play that forces a punt. Or if it happens earlier in the set of downs, it's often a significant enough setback in yardage that it leads to a punt a play or two later. So for each sack, you're giving yourself better odds that you'll force a punt and stop a drive that could result in a scoring opportunity for the opponent.

The Colts had 46 sacks last year and are on pace for just 24 this year. Since 2000, they haven't put up less than 31 in a season. So while some are calling for the heads of the Colts linebackers for not stopping the run, perhaps they should start questioning where the sacks have gone from a defensive line that is playing under much more lucrative contracts than those linebackers. If you believe in the old adage "you get what you pay for", it's the defensive linemen, not the linebackers who should be drawing some raised eyebrows.

And while you're at it, maybe see if you can figure out why the Colts offense has failed to score more than 21 points in five of the twelve games this year. At this same time last year, that had only happened twice.

Want to know the real irony out of all of this? In the two losses this year, the Colts defense held their opponents to 21 points (Dallas) and 20 points (Tennessee) which is right on their 20.9 average per game. The offense, which is averaging 27 points per game, scored just 14 against the Cowboys and 17 against the Titans.

And yet somehow, the sun has come up on yet another Monday with everyone talking about the lousy Colts run defense.

Go figure.

In-Story Photos: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images


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