Colts’ pass rush must improve from within
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – We found out last season Robert Mathis’ surgically-repaired left Achilles tendon was sound. It helped carry him through a 13th season with the Indianapolis Colts.
We’re about to find out whether his shoulders, at age 35, can carry the weight of an entire defense, or at least the pass-rush aspect of it.
A team that acknowledged all offseason it needed to add pass-rush help used the NFL Draft to add only Maine linebacker Trevor Bates. In the seventh round. With the 239 overall selection.
What’s up with that?
“I just take it as they trust me to do my job and I trust them to do their job,’’ Mathis said. “We’re all one team.’’
Collecting pass rushers, he added, “that’s their job. My job is to get to the quarterback.’’
General manager Ryan Grigson insisted there were no palatable pass-rush options whenever the Colts were on the clock. Rather than reaching, they continued to address the offensive line or other areas of the defense with safety T.J. Green, tackle Hassan Ridgeway or inside linebacker Antonio Morrison.
“There are no utopias,’’ Grigson said. “You can’t address every single need in the draft.’’
That leaves the Colts to address that particular need from within.
That means the burden mainly rests with outside linebackers Mathis, Trent Cole and Erik Walden. Remember, the team waived Bjoern Werner in March and Jonathan Newsome in February.
And that means someone – anyone – must emerge from the shadows. Defensive end Earl Okine, all 6-6, 290 pounds of him, has been moved to rush ‘backer. He brings imposing size, athleticism and promise, but saw limited exposure in five games last season.
Among Grigson’s post-draft free-agent haul are outside linebackers Ron Thompson of Syracuse and Curt Maggitt of Tennessee.
But history insists the Colts are banking on the improbable when it comes to complementing their 30-something veteran pass rushers – Cole is 33 and Walden 30 – with a seventh-round pick (Bates) or an undrafted rookie (Thompson and Maggitt).
Over the past 20 seasons, only one player signed shortly after the draft has posted at least 5 sacks in a season – Chukie Nwokorie, with 5 in 2001, and he was in his third season after being signed as an undrafted rookie out of Purdue.
With limited proven pass-run options, it will be up to first-year coordinator Ted Monachino and his staff to be creative with their schemes.
“He’ll do a great job. Our defensive staff will do a great job,’’ Coach Chuck Pagano said. “We’ll find ways to generate pressure.
“It’s got to be a combination. The back end gets an interception because of pressure on the quarterback. The defensive line gets sacks because of tight coverage. It all goes hand in hand and works together. We’ll find ways to generate pass rush.’’
Failing that, the Colts face the prospect of bucking the odds in returning to the postseason. They were among 11 teams with 35 or fewer sacks last season. Not one reached the playoffs or had a winning record.
One more tidbit that can’t be ignored: the Colts had 22 sacks in their eight wins, just 13 in their eight losses.
Mathis dismissed the media’s preoccupation with the Colts’ perceived pass-rush concerns.
“They feel a certain way (and) we feel a certain way, too,’’ he said. “I don’t doubt our abilities. It’s just a matter of doing it.’’
As the strong-side ‘backer, Walden’s primary responsibility is setting the edge against the run. But he’s also added 12 sacks in three seasons, including a career-best 6 in 2014.
“I feel like the energy’s a little bit different here with a new coaching staff,’’ Walden said. “New energy, a new way. We believe in what we have here and that’s all we need.’’
He smiled when reminded that Mathis remains the Colts’ premier pass-rush threat, at age 35.
“Age is just a number,’’ Walden said. “You get better with time, like fine wine. Just gotta get it done.’’