While Colts wait on Tarell Basham, pass rush remains a concern

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Tarell Basham was expected to be part of the solution to a persistent defensive problem.

Instead, the problem persists.

Five games into the season and the Indianapolis Colts still are waiting for Basham to emerge. More to the point, they’re still waiting for the third-round draft pick to do something.

“We need to see more out of Basham,’’ general manager Chris Ballard said recently. “We have (seen) little flashes, but not enough right now. We need more out of him.

“We need him to grow up and continue to show us he can be the pass rusher we saw in college and right now, he’s not there. He’s not what we need him to be.’’

Added defensive coordinator Ted Monachino: “There’s still a lot of growth that needs to happen with him.’’

And that’s the problem. Even though Basham arrived with an impressive resume – 29.5 tackles in 51 games at Ohio – no one expected him to step in and be the next Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis.

But everyone expected him to be more of a factor than he’s been.

His stat line after five games: 1 tackle. That’s it. No sacks. Not even a quarterback hurry or hit despite being on the field for approximately 17 percent of the defensive snaps.

“I’m in the process of playing my role, trying to give these guys what they are asking of me,’’ Basham said Saturday. “I’m coming in here, working hard. When I do get my moments, just play as hard as I can. That’s the best I can do.’’

The Colts need more.

The pass rush has generated 11 sacks and ranks 26th in sacks per play. It’s gotten decent effort/power rushes from free agents Jabaal Sheard and John Simon – a combined 4.5 sacks and seven QB hits  – but there’s no one capable of consistently exerting pressure by winning one-on-one match-ups.

Absent a legitimate individual threat, Monachino has had to be creative. In the fourth quarter, he’s often relied on a four-man rush to disrupt the passing pocket and zone coverage on the back end.

The results have been unsightly, most notably while squandering double-digit fourth-quarter leads to Arizona and San Francisco.

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, facing a 13-3 deficit with 12 minutes to play, and the Niners’ Brian Hoyer, down 23-9 with 10 minutes remaining, forced overtime with furious finishes. They combined to complete 16-of-26 passes for 313 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s a passer rating of 142.0. Ten of the 16 completions went for at least 19 yards.

The blame, insisted Monachino, is shared.

“The pass rush and the coverage have to work together,’’ he said. “Right now, we’re not getting enough done with either.’’

The more Monachino talked, the more apparent it became the lack of consistent pressure is stressing the defense the most.

“We’ve got to be better at getting the ball out of the guy’s hand,’’ he said. “It’s hard for us to play zone when the quarterback can hold the ball and everything turns into a plaster down the field where our guys have to run around late in the down.

“So we’ve got to get better at the pass rush. If you don’t rush the passer well . . . affecting him is one thing, but we’ve got to get guys on the ground. We’ve got to get it out of his hand fast enough that we can help our secondary.’’

During the normal course of a game, the defense has held up against the pass. The Colts’ Achilles Heel has been when opponents spread things out, increase the tempo and force the ball down the middle of the field. They’ve already allowed 30 receptions of at least 20 yards, and eight came in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals and Niners.

“It’s driving us crazy,’’ Monachino said.

Basham won’t be involved in easing Monachino’s angst until he proves he’s up to it.

“If a guy is inconsistent on first and second down, it’s hard for him to earn the right to be in there on third down and rush the passer,’’ he said. “If he were a dominant rusher, if he were a rare rusher, he’d be out there.

“Right now, the guys that are out there are the guys that . . . have proven during practice and in our games so far that they can at least affect the quarterback and somehow have the ability to finish.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.