INDIANAPOLIS – It’s easy to lose sight of what’s going on with the Indianapolis Colts’ defense because of debilitating issues with the offense.
That would be a mistake.
While the offense is off to a historically bad start, Gus Bradley’s defense has kept games winnable, or sealed a victory outright.
“We love those moments when we can finish the game with us on the field,’’ defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “We love those moments. We live for those moments.
“The guys are doing a great job of answering the bell and trying to keep us in games.’’
Or slamming the door. Remember?
Cornerback Stephon Gilmore deflected a pass in the end zone on 4th-and-1 from the Indy 5-yard line that clinched last Thursday night’s 12-9 overtime victory at Denver. On 3rd-and-2, Buckner and linebacker Bobby Okereke stonewalled Melvin Gordon III for a 1-yard gain, setting up Gilmore’s last-down heroics. The Broncos’ final possession of regulation ended with Gilmore’s end-zone interception, and the offense capitalized by driving to Chase McLaughlin’s game-tying 31-yard field.
Gilmore deflected a Patrick Mahomes’ pass with 8 seconds remaining, and safety Rodney McLeod gathering it in for an interception that sealed a 20-17 win over Kansas City. The defense limited the Chiefs to season lows in points and yards (315).
The defense give Matt Ryan and the offense every opportunity to dig out of a 24-3 second-quarter hole against Tennessee in week 4. It limited the Titans to 28 yards and zero points in the second half. It wasn’t enough, but it should have been.
The defense pitched a shutout in the fourth quarter/overtime in the season-opening tie at Houston. The Texans’ final six drives: five punts and a lost fumble. In overtime, end Kwity Paye dominated the first possession with a pair of sacks. Tackle Grover Stewart ended Houston’s next – and final – drive by pulling down Rex Burkhead for a 2-yard loss on 3rd-and-1 at the Indy 47 with 26 seconds remaining.
The defense ranks 8th in yards (312.6) and 4th against the run (96.6), and 10th in scoring (18.8).
More impressive, the Colts are the only team not to allow a point in the fourth quarter. They’ve yielded just 23 in the second half/overtime, and the last second-half TD was Davis Mill’s 22-yard pass to O.J. Howard in the third quarter of the opener.
“It’s good knowing that,’’ cornerback Kenny Moore II said. “I think it builds confidence on the rest of the year. As a defense, you live on those type of moments.
“Just to have that kind of stamp on the fourth quarter, we already know we can do it now. It just comes down to whenever we have an opportunity, we shut the door.’’
That closer mentality was critical the last time Jacksonville visited Indy. They’re in town again Sunday.
In week 10 last season, the Colts led 23-17, but the Trevor Lawrence-led Jaguars were driving. On 1st-and-10 near midfield with just over a minute remaining, Buckner and Dayo Odeyingbo converged on Lawrence for a sack, and Kemoko Turay recovered the ensuing fumble.
To this point, the defense’s stingy disposition has come even though the offense has made things more difficult than they need to be.
The Colts are third in the league with 11 turnovers: seven interceptions and three lost fumbles by Ryan, and a lost fumble by Jonathan Taylor. Four of the turnovers have occurred in Indy territory – at the 27-, 32-, 28- and 21-yard lines – and seven have resulted in points (six touchdowns and one field goal).
Do the math: 46 of the 94 points allowed in five games (48.9%) have come following turnovers.
The offense has yet to get its act together. It ranks 24th in yards (333.0), 26th in rushing (91.4) and last in scoring (13.8). The 69 points are the Colts’ fewest in the first five games of a season since 1998 (57). The offense has failed to score more than 20 points in seven consecutive games, the longest streak since 1993, and the team has trailed at halftime in seven straight games.
And then there’s this. Of the 317 minutes, 27 seconds the Colts have played in five games, they’ve had the lead for 11.3% of the time (36 minutes, 7 seconds).
Linebacker Shaquille Leonard (concussion/nose/back) and defensive end Kwity Paye (ankle) have been ruled out of Sunday’s game.
Questionable Colts: running backs Jonathan Taylor (ankle) and Nyheim Hines (concussion), safety Julian Blackmon (ankle) and cornerback Tony Brown (concussion). Hines still must be cleared through the final phase of the NFL’s concussion protocol.
Defensive end Tyquan Lewis missed the Denver game with a concussion but has been cleared to return.
Reich revealed Leonard underwent surgery to address his broken nose but was unable to offer a timeframe for his return.
Is the concussion which was sustained in the second quarter against the Chiefs still an issue?
“No, I think he’s making progress on his concussion,’’ Reich said. “It’s all interrelated. So because of the surgery, we really haven’t had to press (the concussion) . . . we’ve just kind of let it play out knowing that was pretty significant.
“So, revisit it at the appropriate time.’’
Taylor practiced Thursday and Friday after missing the Denver game and Wednesday’s practice with an injury to his right ankle.
“We’ll continue to evaluate that,’’ Reich said.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.