(Eds: Stands as 1st Ld-Writethru on state line for new approach. With AP Photos.)By CLIFF BRUNTAP Sports Writer
The Colts’ defense, by multiple measures, has been among the worst in NFL history.
Peyton Manning’s absence after neck surgery has crippled the offense, but the defense has been inexplicably miserable. Since the league installed a 16-game schedule in 1978, just two teams have allowed more points per game than Indy’s 31.4 average, and one of them was the 0-16 Lions in 2008. Both the team’s run and pass defenses rank among the league’s worst.
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”I think it’s everything,” linebacker Pat Angerer said. ”The main problem is consistency. Just being consistent all around.”
Indy’s run defense ranks 31st out of 32 teams. New Orleans, a team best known for its passing game, bludgeoned the Colts for 236 yards rushing. Indy was better against Tennessee the following week, but the Colts were ripped for 163 yards on the ground against Atlanta on Sunday.
Opponents are converting nearly half of their third downs and holding the ball for a league-high 35 minutes per game.
”It’s gap consistency, it’s tackling, it’s a lot of different things,” coach Jim Caldwell said.
It could get worse. The Colts host Jacksonville on Sunday, a team focused on running the ball as it breaks in rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Maurice Jones-Drew ranks sixth in the league in yards rushing and has a history of gashing Colts defenses.
As poor as the run defense has been, in some ways, the pass defense is even worse.
Indy is 24th this season in yards allowed per game, but that just tells part of the story. The Colts have allowed the highest opponent passer rating (112.1) of any team in league history. To put that in perspective, only four full seasons by quarterbacks have netted ratings that high: Peyton Manning in 2004, Tom Brady in 2007, Steve Young in 1994 and Joe Montana in 1989.
Opponents are completing a mind-numbing 71 percent of their passes, with 20 touchdowns and just four interceptions. And even with great pass rushers Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney, the Colts have just 13 sacks.
Overall, the Colts are surrendering 406.1 yards per game. Just one team since the end of the 1951 season has allowed a higher total – the 1981 Baltimore Colts, who gave up an average of 424.6 yards and finished 2-14.
”When you don’t get your job done, obviously, it’s frustrating,” Angerer said.
Even in this season, one game stands out. The Colts were ripped for 557 yards in a 62-7 loss to New Orleans. Just once in the past 50 years has a team allowed more points in a game – and that was back in 1966.
Last Sunday’s game against Atlanta offered two glaring examples of Indy’s defensive futility. On one play, three Colts players surrounded Falcons receiver Julio Jones, yet Jones dove and made a highlight-reel catch for a 50-yard touchdown.
On another big play, Jones caught a quick slant 10 yards down the field, avoided two defenders and outraced the rest of the Colts for an 80-yard touchdown.
On both plays, poor fundamentals were costly.
”It’s just more little things,” safety David Caldwell said. ”It’s executing. I know sometimes, you’re looking from the outside in, and you look at those two long balls that Julio Jones caught and you’re like, `Jesus, what are these guys going to do?’ But those are just little things that we could improve, to where an 80 yard gain can be just a 10-yard gain.”
The offense, which ranks 30th in scoring and 31st in total yards, shares in the blame.
”We haven’t been able to hold the ball a length of time,” coach Caldwell said. ”A number of three-and-outs. We haven’t been able to convert on third downs. That plays into it. Giving the opposition a short field where they don’t have to throw it that much and they can hammer it down your throat. That all plays a part of it as well.
”You look at those numbers and you can’t just simply say it’s a defensive issue. There were a number of different things that put them in bad positions where maybe we couldn’t get the kind of results we’re looking for.”
Part of Indy’s problem has been falling behind early. The Colts have had to deal with deficits of 31-0 against New Orleans, 20-0 against Tennessee and 21-0 against Atlanta in successive weeks. That plays a role in the time of possession disparity because teams tend to focus on the ground attack after building large leads.
”If they’re up by 31 or whatever, you’re going to see 15 more runs based on that,” Freeney said. ”We understand that. Not getting down 21-0, those things in the first quarter, will help.”
Freeney still believes there is some potential in the defense.
”It’s just guys on every play doing what they’re supposed to do.”
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