Yesterday, we examined the offense to see how it has improved over 2008, today we'll look at the defense. It's harder to gauge each specific position on the defense because there simply aren't a lot of reliable statistics to go by. Instead of looking position by position, I'm going to use a variety of key indicators and hope that sheds light on where and how the Colts have improved.
The 2008 Colts allowed 18.6 PPG, the 2009 Colts have allowed 16.8. A drop of two points a game would certainly seem to indicate an overall improvement from the defense, especially because the 2008 Colts were bolstered by a year end shut out of the Titans who had 'shut it down'.
The 2008 Colts had an overall DVOA of 0.1% . They were the definition of an average NFL defense. They were 1.2% against the pass and -1.0% against the run. Perfectly average. The 2009 Colts have improved across the board and currently have a DVOA of -4.8%. They have improved against both the run and the pass (-5.4% and -4.0%).
The 2008 Colts picked off 15 passes and forced 22 fumbles, recovering 11. The 2009 Colts have picked off 13 passes, forced 12 fumbles and have recovered 8. Projected over 16 games, that's 19 picks and 17.5 forced fumbles. Assuming the Colts' recovery rate returns to normal on fumbles (50%), Indy is looking at roughly 29 turnovers forced. That's a very modest increase from 2008 (more picks, fewer fumbles).
Defensive Passer Rating:
The 2008 held opposing passers to a 78.0 passer rating, allowing a record 6 TD passes verses 15 picks. The 2009 Colts have allowed a few more TD passes (9 already), but have managed to improve their overall defensive passer rating to 76.5. They've done so by picking off more passes, and dropping their opponents YPA from 6.7 yards last year to 6.3 yards this year. This is a direct result of better corner play. Remember that at one point last year, Indy was starting Tim Jennings and Ratliff at the corners. Lacey and Powers have clearly upgraded the pass defense.
The 2008 Colts had an adjusted sack rate of 5.6%. The 2009 Colts have upped that to 7.0%. In 2008, Freeney and Mathis accounted for 22 of the Colts 30 sacks (73.3%). This year, they have combined for 19 of the 26 sacks (73%). This is interesting because of how much more the Colts have blitzed. It seems the blitz isn't helping the Colts get sacks from more places, but rather is helping free up Freeney and Mathis. At their current pace, they will finish with somewhere around 14 sacks a piece. The pass rush is still just Freeney and Mathis, but perhaps the blitz is freeing them up to get home more often.
The 2008 Colts had 30 sacks on the year, and the 2009 Colts are on a pace for 38. That's basically a half a sack per game improvement.
The 2008 Colts allowed 33.29 yards, 1.77 points, and 0.172 turnovers a drive with a "drive success rate" of 0.706. The 2009 team bests all of those numbers allowing 29.9 yards, 1.59 points, and 0.176 turnovers a drive with a drive success rate of 0.678.
Here's where we see the improved corner play. The 2008 Colts were TERRIBLE against #1 WRs, allowing a DVOA of 21.4% (28th in the NFL). Indy was good against 2nd and 3rd WRs (-15.8% and -10.8% respectively) in 2008, but got torched by #1s. In 2009, they have posted a DVOA of 3.6% against #1s, a massive improvement. The over all performance against all types of WRs is more consistent (-0.7% and -1.2%) though not as good. To me, that would indicate more consistent corner play overall in 2009 as opposed to one glaring weak link in 2008. The Colts' have also improved DRAMATICALLY against TEs and RBs. The 2008 Colts posted numbers of 2.4% and 8.4% against TEs and RBs (with Gary Brackett missing a third of the year). This year, the Colts have shot up against both with excellent numbers of -13.9% and -18.8% (both top 10 in the NFL). Those numbers would indicate that the linebacker play has greatly improved this year as they are most often responsible for backs and TEs.
There is some evidence the DTs are playing better as well, at least on short yardage. The 2008 Colts stopped power runs only 22% of the time (30th in the NFL). The stuffed runs for zero gain or losses only 16% of the time. In 2009, the Horse has improved. Power runs are now stopped 34% of the time (17th in the NFL), though Indy has actually gotten worse at stuffing run plays (14%, 31st in the league).
Third Down Percentage:
Not much has changed. The 2008 Colts were last in the NFL, allowing opponents to convert an astounding 47% of third downs. The 2009 Colts are better, but not much. They are 29th in the league at 44%.
By every meaningful standard the 2009 Colts' defense is better than the 2008 defense. They get more pressure; they force more turnovers; they allow fewer points. In some cases, the improvements are modest, but across the board, the Colts have improved. There is every reason to expect a better fate for the 2009 Colts than the 2008 Colts. The 2009 Colts are better on offense and on defense. Tomorrow, we'll examine the special teams play and the coaching.