Solid Defense Gives Colts a Chance

A Sunday home loss to the Baltimore Ravens was discouraging, but the Indianapolis Colts defense played admirably.
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INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts were posed with a unique challenge in facing NFL MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.

When facing a player who can kill you with his legs and make special plays with his arm, the defense has to be strong. And the Colts had Jackson under wraps for half of Sunday’s 24-10 home loss at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Jackson rallied the Ravens from a 10-7 halftime deficit as he finished with 228 total yards, including a 9-yard touchdown run. The Ravens had just 38 yards otherwise, averaging just 4.2 yards per play, and converting just 38.5 percent of their third downs.

So why did the Colts fall to 5-3? It wasn’t because of the defense, although head coach Frank Reich didn't pointing fingers.

“The defense has played great football,” Reich said. “The defense did a great job today, especially in the first half, stopping their run game. I give credit to the Ravens. I give credit to Lamar Jackson. I give credit to their coaches. They came out in the second half, they went to a short, controlled passing game and they effectively had some momentum using a short, controlled passing game.

“That’s what we wanted to force them to do, and they were able to sustain a couple of long drives doing that. That’s what you have to do to win games, and that’s what they did. Then offensively, for us in the second half, we were out too quick, and we weren’t able to sustain drives and they were. That was the difference.”

Indianapolis Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke catches a fumble in Sunday's home loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

Bobby Okereke (58) catches a fumble in the second quarter.

The Ravens entered the game first in the NFL in running the football, averaging 178.7 yards per game. The Colts allowed just 18 rushing yards in the first half. And the Ravens had just 55 yards total, the fewest allowed by the Colts in the first half of a game since 2014.

But when the Colts offense could not get anything going — they ran just four plays for one yard in the third quarter — that allowed the Ravens to possess the ball for 20:12 compared to just 9:48 for the Colts in the second half, and zapped the energy out of the defense. The Ravens racked up 211 yards of offense, including 92 rushing, after halftime.

The Ravens had a 10-play, 54-yard touchdown drive early in the third quarter, then a 14-play, 75-yard drive in the next possession.

“It’s complementary football,” Reich said. “The defense did do a good job in the first half. I thought we ran it fairly efficiently as well against one of the better rush defenses. I thought we had some stuff in there that worked, that we had some good yardage.

“It just came down – in the second half, both sides of the ball weren’t good enough. The end of the story was, in the second half as a team we were not good enough against a team you have to play a full 60 minutes.”

Colts All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard had a game-high 15 tackles, including 13 solos, one for a loss, and a fumble recovery. He passed linebacker Jeff Herrod (331) for the third-most tackles in the first three seasons in franchise history. Leonard’s 13 solo tackles are the most in the NFL this season, and tied for the second-most since 2018.

Defensive linemen DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart, and Al-Quadin Muhammad combined for 13 tackles (five for loss), one sack, one forced fumble, one pass breakup, and one quarterback hit.

The fumble recovery gave the Colts a seventh consecutive game with a takeaway, their longest streak since 2017-18 (13 games).

The Colts had nine tackles for loss for the second game in a row, becoming one of just two teams along with the Pittsburgh Steelers to do so.

The Colts sacked Jackson twice, once by Muhammad and the other by Denico Autry, his third in the last two games and his team-leading fifth on the season.

The Colts defense played at a high-caliber playoff level on Sunday. Next up is arguably an even more diverse offense in a short turn-around on Thursday Night Football against the Tennessee Titans (6-2) in Nashville. The Titans lead the AFC South Division.

“We have to take this to the chin, all focus now, take all the anger and everything out on the Tennessee Titans coming up,” Leonard said. “That's the main focus now.”

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(Jake Arthur has covered the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for nearly a decade and is a contributor for the team's official website, Colts.com. He’s on Twitter and Facebook @JakeArthurNFL, and his email is jakearthur0890@yahoo.com.)