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Detroit Lions Week 8 scouting report: Are the Indianapolis Colts true contenders?

The Colts look good, but there is some important context to their success.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts are one of the biggest surprises from the first two months of the season. Their 4-2 record firmly puts them in a two-team race in the AFC South, as the Jaguars and Texans have already tapped out this offseason.

But there are questions about the team’s legitimacy. While the Indianapolis defense has been absolutely dominant, their schedule has certainly made it a bit easier on them. Per Football Outsiders’ “past schedule” metric, they’ve had literally the easiest road in the NFL thus far, and by a fairly large margin. (-18.1% to -12.3% for the second-easiest schedule, where more negative means easier).

However, that’s about to change for the Colts. By the same metric, the Colts have the seventh-hardest schedule going forward, and that all begins with a 3-3 Detroit Lions team coming off a two-game winning streak.

Indianapolis Colts

Last season:

7-9 record (3rd in AFC South)
16th in points scored, 18rd in points allowed
Overall DVOA: 20th (19th on offense, 19th on defense)

Last year, the Colts were rocked to their core when Andrew Luck suddenly retired in the middle of the preseason. They were forced to immediately hand the keys to Jacoby Brissett, who had just 17 starts (and a 5-12 record) prior to that point.

Despite all of that, the Colts got off to a promising 5-2 start to the 2019 season. Injuries took a toll on the team late, but they also simply struggled to finish out games they were in positions to win. They finished the year by losing seven of their final nine games.

In the end, that team was pretty average. Even their 5-2 start was a bit of a mirage considering all of the close finishes that tipped in their favor at the end. Eventually, that caught up with them and a 7-9 record seems apt for a team that was just okay on both sides of the ball.

The main focus, as usual with NFL teams, was the future of the quarterback position. Jacoby Brissett had a very up-and-down year after the Colts committed to him with a three-year extension prior to the regular season. Going into the 2020 offseason, however, his future was anything but clear.

2020 offseason

Key free agent additions: QB Philip Rivers, DL DeForest Buckner (trade), CB Xavier Rhodes, TE Trey Burton,

Key losses: CB Pierre Desir, TE Eric Ebron, WR Devin Funchess, QB Brian Hoyer

2020 NFL draft picks:

Round 2: WR Michael Pittman Jr.
Round 2: RB Jonathan Taylor
Round 3: S Julian Blackmon
Round 4: QB Jacob Eason
Round 5: G Danny Pinter
Round 6: DT Robert Windsor
Round 6: CB Isaiah Rodgers
Round 6: WR Dezmon Patmon
Round 6: LB Jordan Glasgow

The Colts didn’t make a ton of moves this offseason, but the ones they made were significant. Obviously, the signing of Philip Rivers highlighted their offseason, bringing in a veteran quarterback that would hopefully bring some much-needed stability to the position. However, the Colts didn’t stop there. Indianapolis made an aggressive move to trade their 2020 first-round pick for DeForest Buckner, and immediately signed the defensive end to a four-year, $84 million extension.

While an important offseason, it still didn’t seem like a huge transition. Much of the roster was kept intact, but those huge-named additions certainly added some important talent.

2020 season thus far (4-2)

Week 1: Loss to Jaguars, 20-27
Week 2: Defeated Vikings, 28-11
Week 3: Defeated Jets, 36-7
Week 4: Defeated Bears, 19-11
Week 5: Lost to Browns, 23-32
Week 6: Defeated Bengals, 31-27

Stats:

  • 14th in points scored, 4th in points allowed
  • 5th in DVOA: 22nd on offense, 4th on defense, 2nd on special teams

Some questions remain about the legitimacy of the Colts’ 4-2 record, seeing as their four wins have come against the 1-6 Vikings, 0-7 Jets, 1-5-1 Bengals and a 5-2 Bears team that is highly questionable. Handing the Jaguars their one and only win doesn’t help much, either.

However, it’s hard to question the legitimacy of their defense right now. They’re not just putting up decent numbers against questionable offenses; they’re tearing them apart. The Colts pass defense in particular has been downright dominant. Take a look at some stats:

  • Passer rating allowed: 71.7 (first)
  • Passing TDs allowed: 7 (first)
  • Interceptions: 10 (first)
  • Yards per passing attempt: 6.6 (fourth)
  • Completion percentage: 61.9 (fifth)

Again, it’s important to look at the quarterbacks they’ve faced thus far (horrible), but these are still fantastic numbers even within that context.

Their run defense has been almost as exceptional, allowing just 3.5 yards per carry on the season (fourth) and first downs on just 19.2 percent of carries (third). The longest run of the season they’ve allowed? Just 28 yards.

Offensively speaking, things got off to a rough start, but the Colts have seen some significant improvements in the run game as the season has gone on. Just look at rookie running back Jonathan Taylor’s split between the first three games and the last three games.

First 3 games: 48 rushes, 182 yards, 3.8 YPC
Last 3 games: 41 rushes, 185 yards, 4.5 YPC

As for Philip Rivers, he’s clearly lost a step in his game, but is still capable of the occasional shootout. He entered last week’s bye coming off his best performance of the year: a 371-yard, three-touchdown, one-interception performance against the Bengals (worth noting: the Bengals have a bottom 10 pass defense by DVOA).

Overall, the offense still seems to be figuring things out, which makes sense considering the quarterback change and injuries.

Key injuries:

  • IR: WR Michael Pittman Jr., RB Marlon Mack, WR Parris Campbell, S Malik Hooker
  • Current injuries: LB Darius Leonard

It’s hard to gauge the Colts’ injury situation since they’ll be coming out of their bye week. Pittman is eligible to come off of injured reserve and it seems like the general expectation is that he may be able to go this week. The 2020 second-round pick could certainly give the passing offense a pick-me-up this week.

Additionally, linebacker Darius Leonard could be back after missing the past two games with a groin injury.

Biggest strength: Secondary

Xavier Rhodes’ career has been revitalized with the Colts after his performance was taking a nosedive with the Vikings. Rhodes is currently the sixth-highest graded cornerback by PFF. But he isn’t the only threat in the secondary. Three different players—Rhodes, rookie safety Julian Blackmon, and backup T.J. Carrie—all have two interceptions on the season.

Biggest weakness: Skill position players

The return of Pittman may help, but the Colts don’t sport a ton of weapons for Rivers. T.Y. Hilton is the headliner, but Zach Pascal and Marcus Johnson haven’t been much of a help. At tight end, Jack Doyle looks well past his prime. Trey Burton is the bigger threat in the passing game, with 107 yards in three games played.

Vegas line for Sunday: Colts by 2.5