The Indianapolis Colts are an interesting team defensively. Up front, Indy is loaded with stars and established players like DeForest Buckner, Shaquille Leonard, Zaire Franklin, and Grover Stewart. Additionally, the Colts have emerging players like Kwity Paye and EJ Speed. In the secondary, however, the promise is there, but there isn’t much experience. Kenny Moore II and Julian Blackmon are leading a secondary made up of mostly first- and second-year players.
With all of that taken into account, Indianapolis’ defense has a chance to be really good, and that was evident in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The defense did give up 31 points and 342 total yards, but there were promising moments to be excited about. Buckner and Franklin played lights out, Shaquille Leonard is getting back to form, the defense took the ball away twice, and Kwity Paye led a promising pass rush.
However, it wasn’t enough to win the game. One of the reasons why is that the Colts still have a problem, defensively, that they had last year. That problem is getting stops late in the game. In order for this defense to reach its potential, Indy has to be better in the fourth quarter defensively.
Fourth quarter defense will determine how good Colts are
Last season, Indianapolis was a middle-of-the-pack defense. They allowed 334 yards a game, which was 15th-best in the league, however, they gave up 25.1 points per game, tied for 28th in the NFL. The reason yards allowed were average but points allowed were bad has to do with the fact that Indy offense turned the ball over a lot in 2022. The Colts had the tough challenge of defending a lot of short fields.
But, there were also times when Indy’s defense got walked down the field, and it was often late in games. That’s why the Colts were one of the worst fourth-quarter defenses in the league last year. Indy allowed 8.1 points per game in the fourth quarter last year. That was second-worst in the NFL, only better than the Carolina Panthers who gave up 8.3 points a game in the fourth.
After just one game, 2023 is looking like more of the same. Against the Jaguars, Jacksonville scored just one touchdown in the first quarter and one in the second quarter. After some halftime adjustments, Indy’s defense looked really good in the third quarter, limiting the Jaguars to just a field goal, and even getting a defense touchdown.
Entering the fourth quarter leading 21-17, things started to collapse for Indianapolis in every phase of the game. The Jaguars had four drives in the fourth quarter, but the last drive was just to kneel out the clock, so really three drives. The first drive, the Colts forced a turnover on downs after just four plays. The second Jacksonville possession was a 10-play, 46-yard touchdown drive, and the third possession was a three-play, 44-yard touchdown drive. After that, the score was 31-21, and the game was essentially over.
Now, as demonstrated in the length of the drives, Indy’s defense was let down by the other phases. A 48-yard punt return set Jacksonville up on Indy’s 46, and an interception put the Jaguars on Indy’s 44. Even still, for a unit that’s striving to be elite, those circumstances aren’t excuses to fold in a competitive game where you had the lead in the fourth quarter.
Sometimes as a defense, your back will be against the wall, and you will be put in bad positions. That’s when great defenses find a way to make a stand. Whether it’s getting a turnover or holding a team to a field goal, elite units find a way, especially in a close game. If the Colts are going to reach their potential defensively, they have to find a way to be consistently solid all game. Regardless of what the offense is doing, Indianapolis must be strong defensively in the fourth quarter.