The Indianapolis Colts fell short against the Denver Broncos Sunday night. The Colts defense was picked apart throughout the first half, but managed to get Peyton Manning off the field in the second half when it matter most.
Today, we hand out grades for the defense. We’ll add in player grades from Pro Football Focus as well. For context, PFF grades on a plus/minus scale where 0.0 is average.
Many people will point to the second half as proof that the defense played better, but that’s isn’t what happened. The Colts had an awful lot of help, whether is was dropped passes, bad throws, or penalties. The Broncos came out sluggish and let the Colts hang around and it nearly cost them.
We’re going to go with the “Peyton Curve” today since it is rare that a defense will grade well against him (only Seattle and a couple Colts from last season can claim an “A” against Manning).
Defensive Line: C-
The line play, especially by the starters, was particularly bad Sunday night. Nose tackle Josh Chapman tied for the worst performance on the defense with a -3.0. None of the starting linemen had a positive grade, and only Ricky Jean-Francois posted a positive game.
Arthur Jones, who was supposed to be a big boost to the line, was below average against the run and even worse at rushing the passer. Rookie Zach Kerr saw a number of snaps and was fairly average, he was better against the run and played hard on every snap.
The second half was better, especially against the run as Denver had just 27 of their 102 yards rushing in the final frame. Denver went three-and-out on their final two series, and only managed four yards rushing when they needed to work the clock.
Outside Linebackers: D
If the point of this position is to 1) rush the quarterback, and 2) set the edge then this unit failed hard. Erik Walden continues to disappoint and was decent against the run but horrid rushing Manning despite recording a “sack” (which should really be credited to Josh McNary as Walden finished the play).
Bjoern Werner, who is now Robert Mathis‘ permanent replacement for the season, had a rough night with a -2.1 overall. He made a few hustle plays, but got zero pressure on Manning and simple couldn’t turn the edge on his blocker.
Pass Rush: D-
The best word to describe it would be non-existent. Manning had all day to throw and wasn’t sacked until the fourth quarter. While the Denver offensive line is very good, the Colts were unable to win one-on-one and that can’t continue. This team overall isn’t good enough to cover effectively if they blitz but also can’t get pressure with just four rushers.
Without Mathis, it is going to be a very long season.
Inside Linebackers: C
Jerrell Freeman and Josh McNary both had solid games. McNary played just 16 snaps, and had the second highest grade with a 2.1. D’Qwell Jackson, the Colts other big free agent acquisition, had the worst grade on the roster with a -3.0 and most of it was due his play in coverage.
Freeman and Jackson are complete opposites in coverage. Freeman finished with a 1.1 and Jackson a -2.8. In fairness, they both got burned by Julius Thomas for touchdowns. Adjustments in the second half helped improve the coverage all across the field, and Thomas in particular was held to just two receptions.
The definition of a mixed bag. Safety Mike Adams was about average with a 0.6, and honestly if he plays like that most of the year it would be fine (and likely better than his counterpart). LaRon Landry, a -2.2 and most of that was due to coverage. I’m no football expert, wait – yes I am, and I don’t understand how you can be a safety in the NFL without the ability to cover a man. It is absolutely baffling.
Vontae Davis turned in another good performance and gave up just one reception for five yards. Greg Toler, well, he had a rough night. Toler drew three defensive holding penalties (two were accepted, the third was a touchdown anyway). He also gave up five receptions for 58 yards and it was clear that Manning was targeting him for most of the game.
The scheme was a bit baffling as well, with the Colts giving huge cushions to Denver’s receivers in the first half. It was the opposite of what the team did last season. In 2013, the Colts pressed and played physical off the line, effectively throwing off Manning’s timing with his receivers, and it worked. They were a bit tighter in the second half, but sticking with a plan that worked before is usually a good idea.