Inside the Numbers: Run Defense

This Colts team has drawn a number of comparisons to the 2006 squad. While that team was historically bad against the run and the 2008 Colts looked to be on pace to be the worst run defense of all time after four games, the current guys have improved. They're still ranked 25th in the NFL, though, so what does the future hold for this team?

The interesting thing about this look inside the numbers was that the Holy Grail, according to most pundits — the presence of Bob Sanders — made virtually no difference in the stat book.

In the four games that Sanders played in, the Colts allowed 4.18 yards per attempt and five rushing touchdowns.  In the eight games in which Melvin Bullitt got the start, opponents averaged 4.26 yards per carry and scored 10 touchdowns.  All told, they gave up 561 yards in the four games with Sanders and 1045 yards in the games without him.

After allowing 754 yards in the first four games of the season (188.5 average), Indianapolis has certainly improved against the run, since they have only given up 852 yards the past eight weeks (106.5 per game).

DT Antonio Johnson has been a solid addition to the defensive front
Harry How/Getty

At this point in the season, with the improved play overall of the defensive line and linebackers — particularly Antonio Johnson and Eric Foster, though the loss of Gary Brackett will certainly hurt — it would be inaccurate for anyone to claim that a running back will have a big game simply because Indianapolis is the next team on the schedule.

And the numbers back that up.  It really depends on the quality of the opponent's running game.

They have only allowed four yards per carry to teams that are ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing on two occasions — Jacksonville, ranked 17th, averaged five yards an attempt in Week 3 and Week 12 against the 26th ranked Chargers, who also averaged five per carry.

When they have faced teams in the top half, they have allowed four yards per carry in every game but two — the Ravens in Week 6 (2.68) and the Titans in Week 8 (2.64).

Simply put, teams that run the ball well run the ball well against this defense.  In 2006, they turned their fortunes around, but they also faced teams that ran the ball a lot, not necessarily teams that ran the ball well.  In four postseason games, they faced the Chiefs (9th), Ravens (25th), Patriots (12th), and Bears (15th).  If lightning does, in fact, strike twice, they will need to face similar opponents in 2008.

The good news for this year's postseason is that Indianapolis should not need to face the two teams that had the most success against them — the Texans and the Jaguars, who account for 569 of those yards.  The Vikings and the Bears, who make up another 362, are in the NFC and, barring an upset, will most likely not be the Colts opponents in the Super Bowl, provided they make it that far.

The bad news is that, if the season ended today, the other five teams that would qualify for the playoffs include three of the top ten running teams in the league — the Ravens (3rd), the Jets (8th), and the Titans (6th).  However, two of the best performances the run defense turned in this season were against the Ravens and the Titans, so the matchups could work in their favor.

Of the remaining entrants, the Steelers (22nd) were already shut down in Week 10 and the Broncos are currently ranked 19th.  The bad side of that is that Denver would be the 4th seed, the Colts would be the 5th, and the Broncos deploy a nearly identical zone blocking scheme on offense to the one that the Texans use.

The point here is not to look too far ahead.  That would result in finding that the Giants, the favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, are the No. 1 running team in the NFL. 

The purpose this analysis was to find out whether or not a similar run to the 2006 postseason was possible or feasible, given the parallels between the two squads.  Game planning, matchups, the next four games, injuries, luck, and final seeding will make the picture much clearer.  At this point, though, it looks fairly rosy, particularly in the AFC side of the bracket.

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