JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Over the past month, the Indianapolis Colts' defense has allowed an average of 289 yards per game.
To put that into perspective, the top three defenses in the National Football League in terms of average yards allowed this season are the Jacksonville Jaguars (281.8), the Carolina Panthers (288.3) and the Denver Broncos (289.1).
While consistency remains the difference between the Colts' defensive unit and those who have been playing at a high level the entire season, that doesn't mean the recent results aren't encouraging for the Indianapolis defenders, most of whom are in their first seasons with the team.
"To be honest, its guys playing together, starting to learn each other and whatnot," inside linebacker Jon Bostic said. "Obviously, there are a lot of different pieces that got put in and a lot of guys coming into a new scheme and whatnot, so it takes time to mesh."
To Bostic's point, the Colts' defense spent the first few weeks of the season trying to find its way, and ranked near the bottom of the league in several key categories, including points and yards allowed.
That trend seemed even worse Week 7 against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium, where the Colts' AFC South Division rivals racked up 518 yards in their 27-0 shutout victory.
But it's been a different story for the Colts' defenders since that game. Despite continuing to face dynamic offensive weapons week in and week out, Indianapolis allowed just 276 yards to the Cincinnati Bengals, 288 yards to the Houston Texans, 316 yards to the Pittsburgh Steelers and 276 yards to the Tennessee Titans.
The Colts hope that standout performance against the Titans is a sign of things to come Sunday in their rematch against the Jaguars at EverBank Field. During the first meeting against Tennessee, a 36-22 loss in Nashville on Monday Night Football, the Titans totaled 473 total yards, including six plays beyond 20 yards, with two of them touchdowns (53 and 72 yards).
In last Sunday's rematch with the Titans, however, the Colts' defense allowed 16 fewer points, 197 fewer yards and only one play greater than 20 yards, a 37-yard reception by tight end Delanie Walker.
Butler echoed Bostic's sentiment about the Colts' defense needing a little time to gel. The ninth-year safety is the only current defensive starter remaining from last season's team, and the 2017 Indy defense has seven newcomers in all, and has been able to improve despite seeing some moving pieces due to injuries, like safety Malik Hooker, defensive lineman Henry Anderson, went a three-game stretch without outside linebacker John Simon and is just now getting safety Clayton Geathers back in the fold.
"We've had a lot of young guys contributing," Butler said. "We've had a lot of new guys new to this locker room and everybody is just getting used to each other. Football, in general, just comes down to communication and execution and we've been doing a lot better job of that these last few weeks."
Bostic, the Colts' leader with 83 tackles this season, knows the task doesn't get any easier from here, and their consistency continues to be tested. After allowing just three rushing yards through the first three quarters of last week's game against the Titans, the Indy defense would allow 89 rushing yards — including the eventual game-winning rushing touchdown — in the fourth quarter of a 20-16 loss.
To get completely where this defense wants to go, Bostic and Co. know the importance of dominating all four quarters, a trend they hope they can spark today against a talented Jacksonville group, which features the league's top rushing offensive attack.
"[It took] a lot longer than we would have liked, but at the end of the day, we do see ourselves getting better each and every week," Bostic said. "But it's important to get better from last week, because obviously last week wasn't good enough."