Looking Forward: The Colts Need Turnovers

Among the plethora of issues on the 2011 team was a complete lack of turnovers forced by the defense. 

In 2011, the Colts forced just 17 turnovers for the season, the third worst in the NFL. 2010 was just a litttle better, with 21 turnovers putting them at 5th worst in the league. 

In fact, that lack of playmaking from a defensive end was a big reason why Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky, directors of aggressive, unpredictable defenses, were hired. The new 3-4 defense may give up more big plays than the tired, old Tampa-2, but it would offset that by producing turnovers and big plays.

At least, that was the idea.

So far, that hasn’t worked out. 

The Colts have forced just two turnovers in three games, and are on pace for just 11 turnovers, which would tie the all-time NFL low set by the Baltimore Colts in 1982. 

This isn’t an issue that is new for either Chuck Pagano or Greg Manusky. 

Despite being touted as 3-4 coaches who coach defenses known for making big plays, a quick look at their history says that is not the case. 

Greg Manusky was a defensive coordinator for five years prior to joining the Colts. From 2007-2010 he was with the San Fransisco 49ers, and then coordinated the defense for the San Diego Chargers in 2011. 

Of those five years, Manusky’s defenses were in the top half of the leage in takeaways just once. The rest of the time they were near the bottom each year. The San Fransisco team that he coached for four years, but only had one good year with them? They led the league with 38 takeaways in 2011, the year after he left. San Diego is currently tied for fourth in the league with nine so far this season. Last year, under Manusky, they forced just 21 turnovers, 26th in the league.

Pagano was a coordinator for just one year, and he’s not in charge of the Colts’ defense, but I think it’s still relevant to mention that his Ravens, despite having a plethora of playmakers (Suggs, Lewis, Reed, Webb, Ngata) and finding a lot of success in rushing the quarterback (third in the league with 48 sacks) were only 13th in the leage last year. 

Quite frankly, this is a problem that must be resolved if the Colts wish to have any success this season. 

It’s not a problem of pressure on the quarterback; the Colts’ primary pass rushers have actually done a decent job of pressuring the quarterback this season. 

Jerry Hughes (5th) and Robert Mathis (13th) are both in the top 15 among 3-4 outside linebackers in pressures per snap. They are also both in the top 25 (9th and 24th, respectively) in terms of all primary edge rushers (4-3 ends and 3-4 linebackers). Only seven teams have multiple players in that top 25; the Colts have the lowest amount of turnovers of that group. 

(Sidebar: Hughes needs more snaps. He has by far the lowest amount of snaps of anybody in the top 15 OLBs in pressures per snap. He needs more opportunities to rush the passer.)

I don’t know exactly what the problem is, but there are several things that could help. 

A. Put Vontae Davis in more man-to-man situations. Davis was billed as a corner whose strength was man-to-man, press coverage. But, so far, he’s been put in zone coverages far more often than I would like.

B. Jerraud Powers needs to catch the ball. Powers has had at least two, possibly three, missed opportunities at picks so far this season. He’ll get more chances, he just needs to pull them in. 

C. Jerry Hughes needs to complete the play. Hughes has the most pressures per play on the team, but only has one sack. He needs to improve at finishing the play and getting the sack, which could translate to one or two forced fumbles. 

D. Dwight Freeney returns. If he’s the Freeney of old, he’s good for a couple strip sacks. 

Look, I’m not a defensive coordinator, and I don’t pretend to be. But, I know that the number of takeaways has to improve. 

How it happenes doesn’t matter to me. It just needs to happen.

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.