Colts struggling scoring defense searches for quick fix during historically poor stretch

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts could spend hours dissecting their defensive breakdowns on film.

All they really need to do is look at the ugly numbers.

They have the NFL's worst scoring defense, 28.6 points, and already have given up 30 or more points in four of eight games, including 38.0 over the past three. It's been a historically abysmal stretch, one the players acknowledge “stings” and something everyone agrees needs to be fixed — and quickly.

“The points definitely hurt, but at the end of the day, I want to win the game,” defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis said Thursday. “It's stuff that we all can do better around here. It's the small details and it's the fine print. We just have to do the little things better. Offenses move fast so they can score points and we have to stop them."

The Colts (3-5) haven't had much success getting many stops lately.

Over the past three weeks, Jacksonville, Cleveland and New Orleans have scored on 20 of 42 possessions and the 114 points allowed is the most allowed by Indy over a three-game span since 2011.

It's the second-highest three-game total since a late-season stretch in 2001, which started with a 40-21 loss to San Francisco that led to former coach Jim Mora's infamous “playoffs” rant.

Not everything has been bad.

The Colts still lead the NFL in tackles for loss (51) and strip-sacks (six), they're tied for third in fumbles forced (nine) and are still in the top half of the league with 21 sacks.

But in the category that matters most, they're struggling.

“It's always frustrating when you give up points, you always want to do better,” safety Rodney Thomas II said. “We know exactly what we have to do, so you just have to do your assignment.”

Neither Thomas nor Lewis could remember any stretch where opponents scored so many points.

And it's not all on the defense, either.

Indy's offense has nine turnovers in those three games and an already thin, inexperienced secondary took another major hit when rookie cornerback JuJu Brents injured his quad. On Wednesday, coach Shane Steichen said Brents wasn’t expected to practice this week and general manager Chris Ballard didn’t make any moves before the trade deadline.

Without the promising Brents, Indy's predicament has deteriorated quickly.

Cornerback Darrell Baker Jr. drew two late, controversial calls that helped keep Cleveland's final drive alive two weeks ago. Then last weekend, cornerback Tony Brown gave up a 58-yard TD pass and a 51-yard pass play that essentially sealed the Colts' fate. Brown, primarily a special teams player, also was called for a facemask penalty that set up another Saints score.

Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley insists there is a solution.

"We are trying to apply more pressure,” he said. "We are trying to find a way. We’re trying to get guys isolated. I think that Samson (Ebukam) and Kwity (Paye) are both playing extremely hard, but you’re right, we just need to find a way to generate some pressure.”

Anything would help, and right now, it seems things can't get much worse.

Indy's scoring average ranks just outside the 25 worst since 1978 and it is on pace to allow 487 points, within striking distance of becoming the sixth team since 1963 to allow 500 points in a single season. And yet even with a 17-game schedule, they may not even break the franchise scoring record. That belongs to 1981 Baltimore Colts who gave up a league-record 533 points.

“It's just mental, a lot of mental busts,” three-time All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard said. "It looks like overthinking, too many guys are running free, and we’ve got to be better in the run game.”

There is good news, too.

Steichen's offense is scoring 25.8 points per game, an increase of nearly nine points per game over last season, and the Colts head to Carolina (1-6) as the only NFL team to score 20 or more points in all eight games.

And with rookie quarterback Bryce Young, the No. 1 overall draft pick, maybe the Colts can stop their three-game losing streak by holding the Panthers closer to their scoring average (18.1).

“Somebody has to make a play and that’s what it comes down to — we've got to finish,” two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “These past couple of games, it’s really been on us — the offense has scored enough points. It’s our job to keep the opponent out of the end zone and we haven’t been doing our job.”

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