The Indianapolis Colts have consistently had one of the best run defenses in the NFL during the Frank Reich tenure, and that trend has continued in 2022. Through three weeks, the Colts' have held opposing running backs to just 2.6 yards per carry on 88 carries.
Last week, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire came into the game averaging 7.7 yards per carry through the first two weeks. In week three against the Colts, he rushed the ball seven times for a grand total of zero yards. The Colts' run defense is for real, and it is helping the team stay in games (despite having one of the worst offenses in the NFL).
What has been the key to the Colts' success this year? Honestly, it's been a complete team effort. The linebackers are filling their gaps with great speed and aggressiveness, and the defensive line is winning their match-ups at the point of attack. Linebackers Bobby Okereke (7th) and E.J Speed (1st) both rank in the top ten among Pro Football Focuses grades for run defense at linebacker.
Defensive tackle Grover Stewart has also graded out well this year, as he is PFF's second-highest rated run defender at defensive tackle. In fact, the Colts have seven players with a 75 or higher grade in run defense this season. The Colts' dominance up front has simply been a complete team effort:
The Colts have a tough test heading into week four, as Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans come to town. The Titans have boasted one the top rushing attacks in NFL over the past few seasons, but they have taken a slight step back this year. Despite having his usual high volume of carries, Henry is averaging just 3.6 yards per carry through three games.
To even take this another step forward, the Titans rank second to last in the NFL in rushing yards before contact (at just 1.5). Statistically, Henry's offensive line has let him down a bit this season and he's not performing the same superhuman feats as he had in years past.
All that being said, the Titans are still a run-first team at heart. Their offense is at their best when they can get Henry rolling on the ground and when they can allow quarterback Ryan Tannehill to feast on play-action over the middle. Despite trailing for nearly the entirety of their second game of the season against the Buffalo Bills, the Titans still rank 13th in rushing attempts in the league this year.
Last week against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Titans were able to build up a quick lead early in the game. From there, the team's struggling rushing attack was able to find some life. Henry finished the day with a season-high 4.3 yards per carry in the Titans' first win of the year. So, while they have been off to a slow start, this is still the same Titans' team of years past with their mindset when it comes to the ground game.
So what is the key to stopping the Titans' plan of attack? I believe it comes down to the play in the trenches. Defensive tackle Grover Stewart is having a career-best season, and that play needs to continue for the Colts to stymie this Titans' rushing game. While he has graded out well on the season, the Titans do boast one of the league's smallest OL starters at left guard, as Aaron Brewer is listed as only 274 pounds on the Titans' team website.
Ultimately, if the Colts want to shut down Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans, they have to play fast and confident at linebacker and have Grover The Destroyer show up like he has all season long. My money is on this unit having another successful day on Sunday.
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