The Indianapolis Colts were tasked with rebuilding multiple areas of their roster this offseason. Of course, they needed a relevant pass rush and they addressed it with additions of Tarell Basham, Barkevious Mingo, Jabaal Sheard and John Simon. They certainly needed to upgrade organically in the secondary and added Malik Hooker, Quincy Wilson and Nate Hairston to improve their coverage skills into the future.
Both areas were desperate needs for the defense, but another area also in dire need of improvement from previous years was the run defense. Al Woods, Johnathan Hankins and Margus Hunt being added to the rest of the front seven was an aggressive step toward general manager Chris Ballard’s clear goal — to legitimately give the Colts offense a running mate to build a well-rounded roster.
So, far some of the fruits of this concerted effort in improving their run defense are evident compared to past years. Hankins, Hunt and Woods have combined for two of the team’s five sacks (40 percent) and four of the team’s 11 tackles for loss (36 percent) through the first two weeks.
It should be understood that there are a lot of new moving pieces to this defense to realize what it can produce within its first two games as well. But the entire front seven is showing the ability to clog running lanes and hold ball carriers who break the line of scrimmage to minimal gains.
Additionally, the Colts defense has forced runs of 3 yards or less on 28 of the 58 rushing attempts against them. On those 58 attempts, they’re allowing an astonishing 2.5 yards per carry (146 rushing yards), which is a far cry from what they were doing at this time last season. And don’t look now, but that 2.5 yards per carry average is best in the league among teams with two games under their belt.
The Colts started 2016 by allowing rushing totals of 116 yards to the Detroit Lions and 134 yards to the Denver Broncos for an average of over 4.5 yards per carry. Naturally, this is only two weeks into 2017 and the Colts have yet to face a top-tier line or back. However, they have never been a team to discriminate on who was running against them.
The team virtually made the New England Patriots’ Jonas Gray a household name by allowing him to go for 201 rushing yards and four touchdowns in 2014. Gray is no longer in the league and his career numbers are 588 total rushing yards and five touchdowns. So the Colts yielded nearly 35 percent of his career yards and 80 percent of his touchdowns in a single game.
Further proof that who the back is means absolutely nothing for the typical Colts defense to give up career numbers on the ground.
The Colts secondary is still working through the kinks. The defensive backs rank 30th in the league in passing yards allowed and 31st in pass plays allowing 15 yards or more. The pass rush (five sacks) is somewhere in the middle of the league. But both facets of the game still need some serious work. However, the run defense has been a nice surprise for the 0-2 Colts and is giving them something to build on as they move forward in the face of injuries and a topsy-turvy coaching situation.
The Colts have another opportunity to improve on those numbers and add to their confidence in Week 3. The Cleveland Browns come to town and are among the league’s worst rushing offenses. On the other hand, the Colts have their work cut out for them in Week 4 when they play at Seattle, which is in the top half of the league averaging 4 yards per carry and 110 rushing yards per game.
While there’s not a large sample size to say definitively that the Colts run defense is considerably better, it’s fairly obvious that this facet of the Colts defense has started off better than the others. It’s been a long time since the Colts could stop the run. For the fan base’s sanity — not to mention the fan’s ability to trust in Ballard’s future decisions — making that happen would be a fantastic step in the right direction.
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