The Colts fielded a solid defense in 2022, Gus Bradley's first year as defensive coordinator in Indianapolis. Prior to their bye week, the Colts had some strong underlying rankings and metrics on defense:
- Yards per play allowed: 8th (5.1)
- Scoring drive percentage allowed: 12th (34.5 percent)
- Average offense plays per drive faced: 4th (5.5)
- Plays of 10+ yards allowed: T-6th (142)
- Tackles for a loss/no gain: 86 (1st)
- EPA per play allowed: 12th (-.008)
The Colts' defense limited explosive plays and made it difficult for opponents to sustain long drives. But something that held the defense back was this:
- Turnovers forced: T-25th (11)
There's some nuance behind that number – prior to their bye week, the Colts' defense was on the field with a lead to start only 37 drives, the second-lowest total in the league behind the Houston Texans (33). Opposing offenses didn't have to take as many risks – the kind of plays that lead to more turnover opportunities for a defense – because they were leading.
(Also, we're using prior to Week 14 here not because the final four games of the season didn't matter, but because it's a better representation of how solid the Colts' defense was for most of the 2022 season.)
But not having Shaquille Leonard for most of the season had perhaps the biggest impact on the Colts' takeaway total.
From 2018-2021, Leonard earned three first-team AP All Pro nods and three Pro Bowl spots; he picked off 11 passes and forced 17 fumbles, making him the only player in the NFL in that span to have both double-digit interceptions and forced fumbles. Leonard's preternatural ability to take the ball away is the kind of thing that can push a solid defense to be a great defense, and the Colts missed it in 2022.
So with that backdrop, Leonard's status will be closely watched when training camp kicks off July 26 at Grand Park in Westfield.
Leonard underwent a pair of procedures in 2022 – in June and November – to address a nerve issue that had been impacting him for years. While he didn't participate in on-field work during OTAs and minicamp this spring, Leonard has been doing everything in his power behind the scenes to give himself the best chance of being ready for the 2023 season.
"Feeling a whole lot better than what I did at any point of the year last year," Leonard said in April. "Moving around a whole lot better, I've got more power in the calf. It's still not where I want to be. Still taking it one day at a time, one step at a time and just maintaining the focus and trying to get one percent better each day."