Are the Colts more likely to get back to their 2021 form on offense or on defense?

In 2021, the Indianapolis Colts were top two in rushing yards and takeaways. After declining in 2022, which category is Indy likely to bounce back in?
Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) breaks away for a 67-yard touchdown Saturday,
Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor (28) breaks away for a 67-yard touchdown Saturday, / Grace Hollars/IndyStar / USA TODAY

In 2021, the Indianapolis Colts had a stretch of football where they looked like one of the best teams in all of football. People had circled them as a team that could sneak into the playoffs and make a run. Of course, we know now that a disappointing collapse in the last two weeks of the season led to the Colts missing the playoffs, but they were still considered a promising team for how they turned their season around that year.

The reason Indianapolis found success in 2021 is because the team did two things really well: ran the ball and took away the ball. Led by Jonathan Taylor, the Colts had the second-best rushing attack in all of football, averaging 149.4 rushing yards a game. Defensively, powered by Shaquille Leonard, Indianapolis forced 33 turnovers, one shy of the league lead. The combination of those two things led to Indy being 9-8 and one win shy of the playoffs.

In 2022, the Colts underwhelmed, en route to a 4-12-1 record. It wasn’t a coincidence that they also struggled to do either of the two things (rushing and takeaways) that made them competitive a year prior; it was a direct correlation. Indianapolis averaged 109.8 rushing yards a game last year, 23rd in the NFL, and only had 21 takeaways, 19th in the league.

The quicker Indy can get back to running the back and taking the ball away, the quicker the team can start winning games. Which is more likely to return for the Colts in 2023?

Are Colts more likely to have a top rushing offense or top takeaway defense in 2023?

The key to both of these strengths returning for Indy hinges on the health of the two players named above. Taylor only played in 11 games last season and Leonard only played 74 snaps over three games. Having both players healthy for a full season will elevate the production in both categories. However, that’s not the full story.

The quality of the offensive line will also play a huge part in whether the rushing attack returns or not. While JT’s health was a factor last season, the offensive line also declined tremendously. Along with the line, the absence of Jack Doyle was noticeable at the tight end position. So those things also have to be factored in when answering this question.

So with that in mind, which is more likely to get back to prominence for the Colts in 2023, the run game or takeaways? All things considered, the rushing attack seems like the safer bet going into the season for a few reasons. For starters, Jonathan Taylor’s health situation is much more certain than Shaquille Leonard’s. Just recently, Jim Irsay claimed that Taylor is already healed up and that Leonard is getting better day by day. With Leonard’s return still a mystery, it’s hard to bet on turnovers without knowing when the Turnover King will return.

Beyond that, the offensive line showed improvement in the second half of last season, and it’s fair to assume that momentum will carry into the new year. Additionally, a strong rushing attack is far easier to replicate than a lot of turnovers. Oftentimes, a high-takeaway season can just be the result of a lot of fortuitous bounces, even with a turnover-forcing specialist like Leonard.

For all of those reasons, it’s more likely that the strong rushing attack returns for the Colts than the takeaways. However, it would be really great if both things resurfaced in 2023.