INDIANAPOLIS – If one wanted to, they could write a book on the historical passing game performances that opposing quarterbacks have had against a Colts defense desired and built by Chris Ballard and coached by Matt Eberflus.
Monday night was just another chapter of that.
As the oft-inaccurate Lamar Jackson set an NFL record—becoming the first QB in league history to throw for at least 400 yards (there have been 376 games of 400 passing yards in league history) while connecting on more than 85 percent of his passes.
Despite being an annually strong run group—which should, theoretically, help set-up advantageous pass defense situations—the Colts have still been a poor defense in defending the pass.
In today’s NFL, with offenses centered more and more around making plays through the air, the Colts have offered a non-resistant pass defense, unable to disrupt timing from the front, or the back end.
That hasn’t been because of a lack of resources committed to the defense, something Ballard was adamant needed to change after firing Chuck Pagano in 2017.
Since Ballard hired Ebrerflus following that ’17 season, the Colts have spent 10 draft picks on defenders in the top three rounds, including the 13th overall pick (and $84 million dollar contract) traded for DeForest Buckner. By comparison, just 5 picks have been spent on the offense.
For those that need a refresher, let’s look at some of the historical performances put up by opposing quarterbacks against this Eberflus/Ballard defense:
Russell Wilson with the second highest passer rating of his 165-game career, as the Colts lost a 7th straight season opener.
Drew Brees setting an NFL record with a 96.6 completion percentage (going 29-of-30), in a blowout loss on Monday Night Football in 20219.
Gardner Minshew had by far the best game of his career, setting a Jaguars franchise record by completing 95 percent of his passes, with a quarterback rating of 142.3, in the last win Jacksonville has had, as the Jags have lost 20 straight games since.
Again, Lamar Jackson threw for more than 400 yards on Monday, completing an astonishing 86 percent of his passes, reaching a mark no QB has ever achieved when throwing for more than 400 yards. A career 64 percent passer, Jackson has played the Colts twice, compiling games of 86 percent and 82 percent, which rank No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, in his 55 career games.
You can toss in the recent playoffs, too, with Buffalo’s Josh Allen (QB rating of 121.6, completion percentage of 74.6) dwarfing his averages in 3 other postseason games (QB rating of 78.8 and 57.5 completion percentage).
In a 2018 against the Colts, Derek Carr completed 17 straight passes, producing one of the most efficient games of his career (115 games).
In 2019, Atlanta’s Matt Ryan connected on 18 straight passes against the Colts. In finishing the game with a completion percentage of 85.3, that marked the 3rd highest accuracy mark of Ryan’s now 220-game career.
Even Sam Darnold got in on the fun against the Colts, as a rookie, setting a career-high by completing 80 percent of his passes, easily the most accurate day of his now 43-game career.
Deshaun Watson completed 80.5 percent of his passes vs. the Colts last season, which is the second highest mark of the QB’s 54 games played.
If you want to go further, inconsistent quarterbacks Jameis Winston (456 yards and 4 touchdowns) and Blake Bortles (320 yards and 2 touchdowns) have had explosive outings against the Colts.
In total, the 69.2 percent completion percentage allowed since Eberflus took over in 2018 is a full percentage point worse than any other team in the NFL. If you look at the perennial winning teams over that 4-year stretch, virtually all of them are at the opposite end of that league ranking.
Where is the accountability for this glaring issue?
At what point will the higher-ups in the Colts organization stop ignoring a constant problem that has kept this defense from reaching necessary heights?
Schematically, Eberflus’ defense is often referred to as one of the simplest ones to prepare for each week, and that shows with the continued efficiency opposing QBs dial up against Indy.
Different zone concepts are used, and the Colts have upped their blitzing lately, but the results haven’t changed.
Blame has to go to Ballard, too. He wanted this defense, before Reich was hired, and has constructed this defense with serious resources.
Blame is obviously on Eberflus for not having answers, annually, when this problem has persisted.
And we can’t absolve Frank Reich for not stepping in as the head coach to demand culpability on that side of the ball.
Is the problem on the players drafted for not living up to that hype?
Or has the coaching staff not developed their personnel and/or struggled to place these guys in favorable situations within this scheme?
Whatever the reasons, Ballard and Eberflus have failed the Colts when it comes to defending the pass.
Pressure up front has been the furthest thing from consistent.
Sticky coverage on the back end is frequently missing.
In 2021, no team has pressured the quarterback less than the Colts. The 124.9 passer rating allowed ranks 32nd in the NFL, by a wide margin.
On Tuesday, Jim Irsay fired off a tweet promising two Super Bowls coming for the Colts in the last decade.
It’s a statement the owner has made for several years now.
Well, until accountability actually shows up at West 56th street, for a terrible pass defense, that dream will be just that.