The Colts defense finished 2008 ranked 24th against the rush and 16th in
average yards allowed per rush.
Inside the Numbers:
Given that they faced the seventh most attempts in the NFL last season, it's
actually fairly impressive that Indianapolis didn't give up more rushing yards
Obviously, they were on pace to be historically bad when the 2008
season opened and rebounded nicely to finish with only slightly embarrassing
numbers, but they still obviously struggled to stop the run.
Their biggest struggles came up the middle, where teams ran the ball 174
times for a 4.22 yard average. The second most vulnerable part of the
defense was off right tackle and around right end — in the direction of left
end Robert Mathis — where attempts off right tackle gained 4.7 yards per carry
and attempts around the right end of the offensive formation gained 4.48 yards
The Colts faced the most attempts up the middle in the NFL and
the fifth-most attempts off right tackle, so it is apparent that offenses were
readily able to find the weaknesses in the Indianapolis defense and exploit
Where they were strong was on the right side of the defense, where they had
exceptional averages: 3.29 yards off left guard, 3.86 yards off left tackle, and
a league best 3.07 yards off left end.
Mathis is no run-stopper, but sitting him down isn't the solution
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
Apparently, the alleged weaknesses
against the run of Eric Foster, Antonio Johnson, and Dwight Freeney were
overstated, although Foster and Johnson must admit some culpability for the
issues up the middle.
Also, it is fairly reasonable to assume that
offenses understood that they could gain all the yards they wanted to by running
up the middle and to the right and didn't bother to probe the left side of the
offensive formation any more than necessary.
These stats do offer some
absolution for Freeney, though, as the number of attempts off left tackle ranked
17th and the attempts off left end ranked 24th.
Mathis is obviously undersized to play the end position in the NFL at 245
pounds, but his issues with stopping the run are well documented, as are the
injury troubles the Colts had at the strongside linebacker position in 2008.
Taking Mathis out of the lineup on first and second down is not the answer and,
if the linebacker on his side of the field is able to stay healthy, that will
certainly help production.
The unsettled nature of the defensive tackle position was a severe problem
for the Colts defense throughout the 2008 season, starting with the release of
Ed Johnson and culminating with Foster's and Antonio Johnson's respective
inabilities to establish themselves as the starters.
Gary Brackett, to be
sure, is not the weak link, as he stepped up in the absence of Bob Sanders and
played well. Also, the loss of Sanders certainly hurt the run defense up
And, since the nose tackle position was never set, the under tackle position
suffered to stop the run, which would contribute to the gaudy numbers posted by
the opposition up the middle and off right guard and tackle.
It is quite evident that, for the defense as a whole to prosper, the fix for
one problem is not to remove a Pro Bowl player for two out of three downs.
Although Mathis would be — and has been — dangerous as a situational pass
rusher, he is too vital to the overall defensive scheme to simply replace him
with a better run defender.
Adding players like Moala and Taylor should help the problems "up the middle"
Jeff Golden/Getty Images
As it turns out, Indianapolis has already taken serious steps to address this
problem by retaining Antonio Johnson, re-signing Ed Johnson, and drafting Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor.
For a unit that has historically lacked "beef"
in the middle of the defense, the Colts defensive tackles now boast four players
out of seven that tip the scales at over 300 pounds. If they are looking
for a quick fix, they may just want to go big on first and second down,
inserting two of the four 300+ pound players into the lineup, and daring teams
to run at them.
But, that runs counter to the defensive philosophy that Indianapolis has used
for the past decade, so such a paradigm shift seems unlikely — even with new
defensive coordinator Larry Coyer calling the plays. The better solution
would be to switch Foster — already established as a capable, if overwhelmed,
run defender — to the under tackle position and using one of their bigger
tackles at the nose tackle slot.
This would minimize any drain on the pass rush, still keep the defensive line
relatively small, and maximize the effectiveness of the run defense.
As for Mathis, the hope is that the strongside linebacker position will be
stabilized in 2009, given the fact that everyone should be returning healthy,
and that Sanders may be able to shade over to his side and give assistance under
the assumption that the infusion of talent at defensive tackle will fortify the
After all, the defense will naturally adjust if the only weak spot
is off right tackle and right end. Even if they don't, there were 174
attempts "up the middle," which is a vague term, versus 120 attempts to the
right edge in general.
Ultimately, the Colts cannot fix everything that is wrong with their run
defense in one offseason, but they appear to have patched a number of areas that
will significantly improve their effectiveness on the run defense in 2009.
Talk about this story in our Insider's Forum!
Follow ColtPower's updates on Twitter!
The run defense has been an issue for a number of years for the Colts and was an issue in 2008. How can they fix it? We take another look inside the numbers.
ColtPower takes a look at the Colts run defense and what they can do to improve it