INDIANAPOLIS. There is so much going on in professional football today to give advantage to the offense.
From how pass interference is judged to the rules governing how quarterbacks can be handled by defensemen, offense has some distinct built-in advantages.
And that’s why playing defense for the Indianapolis Colts this season has probably been frustrating. The Colts showed for the 100th time this season in Sunday’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles how hard it is to win by relying too much on defense in today’s NFL.
The Eagles’ 17-16 victory at Lucas Oil Stadium followed a familiar pattern: the Indianapolis defense fought valiantly throughout the game, but given the lack of a scoring offense, it wasn’t enough.
It’s a plan that should sound familiar. This game was an almost exact replica of the Colts’ loss to the Washington Commanders on October 30—until the final score (Washington won 17–16).
Sunday was a different day, a different quarterback, a different coach, but the same result.
In that game, the Colts capped the Eagles with the fewest points of the season. But put that against an offense that scored touchdowns on only one of its three redzone hits, an offensive line that improved but still wasn’t good enough, and an alarming number of negative plays, and you get an identical result. .
“We had everything ahead of us,” Colts interim coach Jeff Saturday said. “We didn’t do enough to get the win. A disappointing loss, obviously. Just too many mistakes, too many penalties, too many bad games, missed shots. You just can’t play with such a good team and give them so many opportunities. We just left them in the game. And in the end [they] played one more game than us.”
And that’s the thing: the Colts offense barely plays.
The attack started hot, teasing the crowded hall with the promise of new highlights. Indianapolis took the first kickoff and rushed for 75 yards in 10 plays, with running back Jonathan Taylor rushing seven times for 49 yards. But after this possession, the offensive actions of the Colts were mostly remembered for inconsistency, shortcomings and slovenliness.
“A lot of people should have, they could have, they could,” said center Ryan Kelly, the offensive lineman who hit a league-record 40 sacks.
Saturday did everything he could to breathe life into the Colts, such as when he moved practice outside this week despite freezing temperatures and the Colts’ indoor home games. But it will take more than a few coaching tweaks to fix whatever is troubling this offense. From rookie left tackle Bernhard Reimann to a penchant for sloppy penalties, no quick fixes on Saturday can fix this.
And the impact it had on the defense has never been more evident. Since Week 5, the Colts’ defense has been working like an elite unit, although it has little to show for it.
Heading into Sunday, Indianapolis was fifth in the league in defensive scoring so far. In addition, only three times in 11 games, the Colts scored over 20 points. That last statistic might actually mean something if the Colts weren’t also averaging 15.7 points early in the game – third in the NFL. But give them credit for the consistency: their 16 points were completely predictable given their previous pace.
The lack of production on offense constantly raises the stakes for the defense of the Colts. It happened again on Sunday when the Eagles inevitably launched an attack. The Colts held Philadelphia to three points early in the fourth quarter, but the Eagles combined two clutch hits to take the win a week after their first loss.
In the final touchdown, Philadelphia hit the third goal from the 7-yard line, with quarterback Jalen Hurts scoring the game-winning goal in the tie. The Indianapolis defense, which had no room for error, was deceived.
“Usually,” linebacker Zaire Franklin said, “the quarterback draw is played out of the blue. [set]”.
The Colts have protection that even some of the more impressive teams would love to have. They receive Pro Bowl-level performances from a number of players such as DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart and Stephon Gilmour. And they do so without the involvement of All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard, who is expected to miss the rest of the season due to a second back surgery.
But when the offense fails to play, none of that matters.
“It’s boring,” QB Matt Ryan said, “but we have to play better than we do now. The devil is in the details. It’s over and over and over and over.”