Is BIGGER, Better for Colts Run Defense?


Previously, we analyzed whether “Bigger is Better” for the Indianapolis Colts wide receivers in red zone scoring, we’ll now shift our focus to the Colts defensive line in run defense.

Oftentimes, many league observers associate being bigger in the trenches as being better, particularly as it relates to a team’s run defense. In theory, being bigger is associated with being stronger, and that fares better at holding position at the point of attack. This is ideal for stopping the run where offensive lineman are looking to push defensive lineman backwards and open up holes in the running game.

Additionally, and again in theory, bigger defensive lineman are also to better able to withstand the “physicality” in the trenches and aren’t as susceptible to getting worn down throughout the course of a game, namely against the run.

Without further ado, for the purpose of this exercise, we calculated the total weight in pounds of all of the 3-4 defensive lines from last season, as shown below:

From there, we paired each 3-4 defensive line’s total weight (sorted from heaviest to lightest), with their average rush yards allowed per game in 2014, and the corresponding rankings among all of the NFL’s 32 teams in run defense, which is depicted below:

As you can see, there are some mixed results as it relates directly to weight. While the league’s heaviest 3-4 defensive line in the New York Jets at 959 total pounds was a Top 5 run defense, allowing just an average of 93.1 rush yards per game, there’s a familiar face right behind them in tipping the scales:

The Indianapolis Colts.

Jan 11, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Josh Chapman (96) against the Denver Broncos in the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Colts defeated the Broncos 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

With a trio of Josh Chapman at nose tackle and both Cory Redding and Ricky Jean-Francois starting at defensive end, the Colts were the 2nd heaviest 3-4 defensive line last season at 955 total pounds. However, while the run defense occasionally flashed showings of brilliance, it was largely a suspect unit, especially when a certain team from New England played against it. Specifically, the Colts were the 18th best run defense last season, as the unit allowed a pedestrian 113.4 average rush yards per game.

It doesn’t appear that there’s a direct correlation between being bigger and consequently, being better in run defense. Not only do the 2014 Colts support this assertion, but the 5th heaviest 3-4 defensive line in all of football in the Cleveland Browns at 935 total pounds, ranked dead last in the NFL in run defense during 2014, allowing an abysmal 141.6 average rush yards per game. Just behind them in heaviest 3-4 defensive lines was the Kansas City Chiefs (6th at 935 pounds) and Tennessee Titans (7th at 931 pounds), who ranked 28th and 31st in run defense respectively (i.e. pretty poor run defenses in their own right).

What does it mean for the Colts in 2015? 

Unfortunately, the Colts don’t have some of the league’s best run defense stalwarts like the New York Jets Muhammad Wilkerson and Damon Harrison along their defensive line; however, this year’s defensive line will be getting a significant makeover nevertheless.

Jan 11, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Indianapolis Colts defensive end Arthur Jones (97) against the Denver Broncos in the 2014 AFC Divisional playoff football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Colts defeated the Broncos 24-13. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Due to injury, now departed rotational defensive end Ricky Jean-Francois (297 pounds) started 13 games for the Colts last season in place of the hobbled Arthur Jones (337 pounds). If Jones can stay healthy, it figures to be a boost to the team’s run defense, bigger or not, because he’s simply better in run defense than Jean-Francois.

Additionally, the Colts swapped out veteran leader Cory Redding (318 pounds) for recently signed free agent addition Kendall Langford (313 pounds). Known more for his pass rushing prowess, it’s unclear how exactly Langford will help the 2015 Colts, as that was Redding’s forte as well.

However, Langford did play his best football earlier in his career as a 3-4 defensive end for the Miami Dolphins and had been somewhat miscast as a 4-3 defensive tackle during his past couple of seasons with the St. Louis Rams. He could be due for a bounceback season with the Colts in 2015, even if he doesn’t provide much of an upgrade necessarily in run defense.

So how do the Colts look in 2015? 

Well, if you’re still a staunch believer that “Bigger is Better” along the defensive line, despite the lack of a direct correlation in appearance, I have some great news for you.

Next year’s projected Colts starting defensive line weighs in at a whopping 990 total pounds, largely due to the full-time return of Arthur Jones and his massive 337 pounds at defensive end. That would’ve beat last year’s league “heavyweight champion” in the New York Jets by more than 30 extra pounds:

When push comes to shove, next year’s starting Colts defensive line projects to be bigger, although fans will have to wait and see if it’s actually better in run defense. With Jones’ full-time return alone, it figures to be in theory and not necessarily because of his exorbitant size, but because of his exceptional run-stopping ability in general.

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