Colts defense went from team’s biggest strength to biggest weakness; what happened?

The defense of the Indianapolis Colts used to be something that the team could rely on but now, the unit is costing Indy games. What led to the change?

New Orleans Saints v Indianapolis Colts
New Orleans Saints v Indianapolis Colts / Justin Casterline/GettyImages

In 2022, when the Indianapolis Colts had a pathetic 4-12-1 record, they were often in competitive games, despite having an abysmal offense. The reason Indy had a chance to win many of those games was because the defense was playing phenomenal. While the offense struggled, it was the defense that showed up several times to keep them hovering, sometimes pulling out games.

Of course, the load eventually got too heavy and the defense ultimately collapsed down the stretch of some games and the season as a whole. Regardless, Indy had a relatively solid unit defensively, and the defense was supposed to be something that the Colts could lean on in 2023. After eight weeks of the season, that has not been the case.

The Colts are currently on a three game losing streak, and while turnovers have played a major role, the defense has been pretty underwhelming as well. In Week 6, Indy lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars 37-20. In Week 7, Indianapolis fell by a score of 39-38 to the Cleveland Browns. Most recently, the Colts lost in Week 8 39-27 to the New Orleans Saints.

Colts have allowed over 35 points in their last three games

Again, turnovers played a big factor in those scores. Gardner Minshew gave the ball away four times in Week 6 and Week 7, each, and once in Week 8. Still, the defense has had its struggles. During this three-game stretch, the Colts are allowing 221.3 passing yards a game and 132.0 rushing yards a game.

On the season, Indy is giving up 371.3 yards a game— 27th in the NFL. Indianapolis has the 25th-ranked passing defense allowing 247.3 passing yards a game, and the 23rd-ranked rushing defense, allowing 124.0 rushing yards a game. So how did Indy go from a solid defense to one of the league’s worst?

Simply put, the secondary got worse. Last season, the Colts allowed just 334.0 yards a game, almost 40 less than this season. However, Indy allowed the same amount of rushing yards per game in 2022, 124. The difference is against the pass, where Indianapolis gave up just 209.9 last season— nearly a 40-yard difference.

Unfortunately, this is a decline that everyone saw coming. The Colts traded away Stephon Gilmore and released Isaiah Rodgers Sr. after he was suspended indefinitely for gambling. Instead of replacing these starters with established veterans, Indy turned to second-year undrafted players and rookies. The result is a struggling cornerback room that has been further challenged by injury. This is a problem the Colts will likely face for the remainder of the season. Unless the corners step up and play better, Indy’s defense will hold the team back similar to how the offense did a season ago.