It's been a tough season for the Indianapolis Colts, who fell to 4-10-1 on the season Monday night with their 20-3 home loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday Night Football.
This season's results, however, have overshadowed what has been one of the best collective efforts by a Colts defensive front in the Indianapolis era. Case in point: the Colts collected four total sacks against the Chargers on Monday night, bringing their season total to 43 on the year; only the 2004 Colts (45 sacks) and the 2005 Colts (46 sacks) have had more sacks as a group since the team moved to Indy in 1984.
"You know what? It's honestly just guys playing for each other," said defensive tackle DeForest Buckner, who had 1.5 sacks on Monday night to bring his season total to eight. "We've got a really tight group. And week in and week out, we can only control what we can control, and up front along the defensive line guys are pulling for each other, even through these hard times."
And it's not like the Colts, who now rank sixth in the NFL in total sacks, have had just one or two stud pass rushers leading the way throughout the season. Edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue leads Indy with 9.5 sacks this season, followed by Buckner's eight, but they're two of seven Colts players with at least two sacks on the year, while four players — Ngakoue, Buckner, Kwity Paye (six sacks) and Dayo Odeyingbo (five sacks) — have at least five sacks this season.
Since 1984, only the 2000 and 2005 Colts teams have had at least four players with five sacks in a single season — a true indicator of the all-around talent up front for Indy this year.
"I think it's just everybody holding each other accountable from top to bottom," Odeyingbo said. "The expectation from Buck (Buckner) to the practice squad guys is the same — everybody is expected to show up every day and be their best, and I think that's shown on the field at the end of the day, that we've continued to improve throughout the season as a D-line, and we're still improving."
Odeyingbo's improvement has been crystal clear over the past six games. He entered Indy's Week 11 contest against the Las Vegas Raiders with 1.5 sacks and four quarterback hits in total, but since that contest, he has a combined 3.5 sacks and seven quarterback hits, bringing his season totals to five sacks and 11 quarterback hits.
Last season as a rookie, Odeyingbo — who was working his way back from an Achilles injury suffered after his final collegiate season — registered six total tackles (five solo) with half a sack, one quarterback hit and one forced fumble in 10 games. The 2021 second-round pick's skillset really seems to be meshing with his potential now late into his second NFL season.
"I mean, I feel like I've just been growing in confidence," Odeyingbo said. "I started last year coming off an injury, so just over time I've been building confidence in the game and just believing in myself more."
Buckner, who leads the Colts with 18 quarterback hits the season playing from the interior, was also quick to credit first-year defensive line coach Nate Ollie and assistant defensive line coach Matt Raich for their consistent approach with the unit in practices and in the meeting room, which has translated onto the game field.
"Yeah, everybody is taking the coaching from practice and applying it to the game," Buckner said. "And that's kudos to Nate and Raich. I'm just happy for the guys producing, really, on all levels."
The Colts' defense will look to break the Indianapolis-era record for sacks in their 16th game of the season next week on the road against the New York Giants, who have allowed 47 total sacks on the year — fifth most in the NFL.