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The Worst Defense To Ever Win A Super Bowl: The 2006 Colts

Since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger, there have been 41 Super Bowl champions. Of those, 40 allowed fewer points per drive than league average. The one exception: the 2006 Indianapolis Colts. They were bad nearly across the board, with only 2 exceptions: turnover % and QB Rating against. Make no mistake about it, despite toughening up a lot in the playoffs, the 2006 Colts defense was abysmal. Take a quick look at some stats:

The Colts allowed an astonishing 2.25 Adjusted Points Per Drive ([points per drive allowed]-[defensive points scored per drive]). That was 2nd worst in the league in 2006. To put that in perspective, from 2000-2010 there were 350 team years and only 45 allowed more than 2.2 APPD. Those teams accounted for 246 wins and 474 losses, a winning percentage of .342. Only 4 such teams posted winning records: 2000 St Louis Rams (10-6), 2000 Minnesota Vikings (11-5), 2008 Arizona Cardinals (9-7) and the 2006 Colts (12-4). The Rams lost in the first playoff game, the Vikings got blown out by the Giants in the NFC Championship and the Cardinals lost the Super Bowl. The Cardinals’ defense played pretty well in the playoffs, but the other two teams got exposed badly.

The 2006 Colts allowed 36.9 Yards Per Drive, giving them a YPD+ of 79. In other words, they yielded roughly 21% more yards per drive than the 2006 league average of 30.5. Between 2000-2010, only 11 teams fared worse relative to league average. Those teams had an aggregate record of 70-106, with only 2 winning teams in the bunch – the 2004 Indianapolis Colts (YPD of 77) and the aforementioned 2000 Minnesota Vikings (73)

The 2006 Colts run defense? Staggeringly bad – they gave up 173 yards per game on the ground and an eye-popping 5.3 yards per attempt. The only other team to give up more than 170 rushing yards per game since 2000 was the 2008 Detroit Lions (172 YPG) – who went 0-16. 7 times that year the Colts gave up more than 180 yards on the ground, including 3 games over 200 and 375 yards to the Jaguars. Their incompetence against the run made them one of only 4 teams to face a higher percentage of run plays than league average. Teams ran on the Colts 54.2% of the time, compared to a league average of 45.2%.

Against the pass, the Colts actually fared better. They held opposing QB’s to a Rating of 80.4 compared to league average 78.5. However they were easily the worst pass defense in terms of completion % allowed, allowing QB’s to complete 64.1% of their passes. Only the 1993 Cowboys were over 60% (60.2% to be exact).

Another place the 2006 Colts failed was in stopping touchdowns. They allowed a TD 26% more frequently than the average team – letting their opponent into the endzone on an even 25% of all drives. Only two other Super Bowl winners were below average for their year: the 1998 Broncos (4% worse than average) and the 1976 Raiders (6% worse).

Lastly, the 2006 Colts forced their opponents to punt on only 32.6% of their drives. Only the 1971 Cowboys won the Super Bowl below 40%, checking in at 39.6%. The average for a Super Bowl winner is 48.8%. That the Colts managed to win 12 games while having a sieve for a defense is a testament to Peyton Manning and the rest of their offense.

All in all, it’s a grim picture. The Colts regular season defense in 2006 was the type of unit more often associated with a 4-12 team than a 12-4 team. Somehow though, they managed to pull themselves together and win the most important 4 games of their season. And while it would be easy to credit Peyton Manning, the defense deserves a lot of recognition:

The key here is obviously that the Colts figured out how to stop the run. The Chiefs came into the playoffs averaging about 134 yards per game and the Colts shut down Larry Johnson and company. Kansas City managed to put up only 44 yards on 17 carries.  Indianapolis’ performance against the Ravens wasn’t as impressive as the numbers might lead you to believe. Baltimore was 2nd worst in the league with a meager 3.4 yards per carry in the regular season. The Colts allowed Baltimore to run for better than 4 YPC (83 yards on 20 rushes) but combined with 4 takeaways, it was good enough to win. While the Colts were probably lucky to escape the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, the run defense held their ground: giving up a 35 yard run to Corey Dillon but holding the Pats to  a meager 2.5 yards per carry on their 23 other runs. The Colts defense managed to stuff Laurence Maroney and Dillon on a number of key third downs, preventing the Pats from running out the clock with what was once an 18 point lead. The Super Bowl saw the Colts run D revert to form a bit, giving up 111 yards on only 19 carries (5.8 YPC) but the 5 takeaways and a relentless running attack of their own (Indy managed 191 yards on 42 carries) earned them the Lombardi trophy.

What the Colts defense did in the 2006 playoffs is truly remarkable. They didn’t end the season on a particularly good note going 2-3 in December while allowing 363 yards per game in that stretch. The big difference between December and the playoffs? In those 5 regular season games, the Colts managed only a combined 5 takeaways. Once the playoffs started, it was a different story with Indianapolis getting 13 takeaways in 4 games. Furthermore, they forced 21 punts in those 4 playoff games. In the entire regular season, they only forced 47. Key 3rd down stops and takeaways are the two biggest elements of a great defense and in the 2006 playoffs, Indianapolis’ defense managed to get both – despite struggling mightily from September-December.

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