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For The Title Of Worst Defense In NFL History: 1981 Baltimore Colts vs. 2010 Houston Texans

With apologies to any Baltimore Ravens fans who stop by because, you know, we feel your pain.

TexansDC was nice enough to point out this post by AJ Burge, an excellent Texans blogger in his own right.  AJ brings up the 1981 Colts as being potentially a worse defense than the Texans.  Because he's a bright guy, I figured it was a trail worth sniffing.

The 1981 Colts were a truly awful football team, being run into the ground by a know-nothing owner who believed losing was the best way to get the city of Baltimore to bend to his demands for a new or remodeled stadium.  Well, perhaps that's too harsh:  Team management was poor, and aside from Lydell Mitchell and the aging Bert Jones and Bruce Laird, the team was fairly bereft of talent on both sides of the ball.  John Elway famously refused to play for the Colts during this era, the first team strike of its kind.  Just two years later, in January 1984, owner Bob Irsay scurried to Indianapolis under the cover of darkness, precisely like your common cockroach.

But the point of this post isn't to re-hash the move.  Is your 2010 Houston Texans' defense worse than that of the 1981 Colts?

The biggest difference between the two teams is the era in which they played.  Smash-mouth football still reigned supreme then, as compared to the passing offenses of today.  The vast majority of single-season QB ratings' records are from the past 25 years, emphasizing how the game has changed.  Therefore, it's virtually impossible to compare these two teams, but common sense aside, I'm going to give it a go.

The average QB rating the 1981 Colts faced was 73.3.  This included league-leading Ken Anderson (98.4), Dan Fouts (90.6), and Craig Morton (90.5), who ranked 1-3 in QB rating for the year.  So far this year, the Texans have faced an average QB rating of 91.7, including David Garrard (#2), Philip Rivers (#3), Matt Cassel (#9), and Peyton Manning (#10) twice.  Both teams faced the elite quarterbacks of their eras for the most part.

However, while the adjusted QB rating certainly favors the Colts, there are some catches.  The Texans are giving up more yards per attempt (8.89 vs. 8.62), are on a pace to give up more TDs (39 vs. 36), more overall yards (5,020 vs. 4,154), but all on more passes against.  Quarterbacks are dropping a 107.7 rating against the Texans, while the Colts "held" their opponents to 100.0.  Worst of all, the Texans are at half the pace of the Colts as far as interceptions, which is incredibly depressing and truly one of the biggest problems about the defense.  Therefore, teams are passing more against the Texans than they did the Colts simply because they can.

Which, frankly, makes sense.  Not only could the Colts NOT stop the pass, they were horrendous against the run.  The league managed 2,665 rushing yards against the Colts, 4.4 yards per carry, and a whopping 30 TD rushes against.  The San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions led the league in rushing TDs with 26, which should give you some perspective on the Colts' run defense.

My conclusion: The 1981 Colts were a special team led by a special front office.  Colts fans, which were amongst the most dedicated in the league, stopped going to games after 1981.  Front office malevolence did not help, and the team was never expected to compete.  Star Bert Jones would be traded after the 1981 season, setting the team back even further.  Clearly, the 1981 Baltimore Colts are worse than the 2010 Texans in overall defense.

However, I think the question remains open on pass defense.  Even when you adjust for eras and the quality of QBs each team faced, the Texans are giving up a much higher completion percentage (68.5% vs. 61.2%), more yards per catch, more TDs, and have far fewer interceptions.  I do believe the 2010 Houston Texans currently own the worst pass defense in the history of the NFL.  As shown by DVOA, the closest competitors to that title...aren't even close.  Finally, when you factor that the Texans defense is chock full of talent, was kind of decent last year, and had much higher expectations than the 1981 Colts, the question becomes moot.  Today, right now, your 2010 Houston Texans' pass defense is the worst in the history of the NFL.

I'm quite sure Frank Bush finds this hilarious.