INDIANAPOLIS – The numbers aren’t there, not the ones everyone notices. Not yet.
Kwity Paye still is hunting for his first NFL sack and that occasion when one of those just-a-half-step-late moments is replaced by pulling himself off of a quarterback, being slapped silly by his teammates and embracing the reaction from the crowd.
It almost came in last Thursday night’s win over the New York Jets. Once, twice, maybe three times.
“The numbers may not be there, but I’m making other guys make plays, you know?’’ Paye said Tuesday. “I think my time will come, and that’s just me being patient, me continuing to work.
“But I can’t get caught up in that. I’m past the point of saying that I’m a rookie, I’m still learning. I’m a pro now, and I’m trying to produce for this team. For me, I just have to keep focusing on trying to improve every single week, and I think I’ve been doing that.’’
The focus and pressure have been on Paye since general manager Chris Ballard used the 21st overall pick in the April draft on an athletic, high-motor defensive end out of Michigan. Paye and second-round pick Dayo Odeyingbo were viewed as the future catalysts of the Indianapolis Colts’ pass rush.
They had to be. Two of the recent mainstays, Justin Houston and Denico Autry, weren’t re-signed during the offseason.
If there was going to be a competent edge pass rush for coordinator Matt Eberflus’ defense, it had to come from Paye and returnees Al Quadin-Muhammad, Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis and Ben Banogu. Odeyingbo missed the first seven games while completing his rehab from a torn Achilles.
More to the point, Paye had to be the eye of the storm.
But heading into Sunday’s meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium, Paye has what appears to be a quiet stat line: 16 total tackles, one tackle for loss, zero sacks, two quarterback hits, one pass defended and two fumble recoveries.
The stat line hardly offers a reliable assessment of Paye’s rookie season. His trend line has been moving in the right direction from Day 1 and reached its zenith against the Jets.
“Kwity has done a really good job of just learning from his experiences,’’ Eberflus said. “That’s the one thing we love about Kwity, is his ability to get off on the ball and capture the edge with his speed and quickness. He’s learning how to get to the edge and learning how to smart-rush the tackle, meaning that when he gets to the level, he comes back, and when he beats him on the corner, he’s able to turn the corner.
“I just think the progress of him is coming and the pressures and the hits on the quarterback, as you saw Thursday, were better.’’
Paye admitted he struggled with his pass rush early, but encouragement from Eberflus and position coach Brian Baker kept him on the right track.
“As the season went on, the notes kept saying, ‘Hey, improving here, just keep going, just keep trying to work it in practice,’’’ Paye said. “When you see those notes, my job as a professional is to start working on it and take that seriously.’’
Frustration hasn’t crept in, despite the lack of sacks.
“Not really because once you get caught up in all of that, your play starts to go down when you’re blaming a whole bunch of other factors,’’ he said. “For me, it’s just a next-play mentality.’’
Paye also is becoming more proficient with his “games’’ and stunts with tackles DeForest Buckner, Grover Stewart and Odeyingbo, who has lined up inside in the nickel rush package. Paye usually lines up on the right side in the base defense, but he has been flipping to the left in sub packages.
“I think he’s on the upswing,’’ Eberflus said, “and we know that rushers have a lot of rushes, and they don’t have a lot of sacks, but man, the pressures are the things that are also very, very important.’’
That brings us back to the Jets game. To Paye’s best game thus far.
Paye’s stat line, again, was relatively modest: two tackles, two quarterback hits, one pass defended.
But he was a game-long force.
While sacks are easy to chart, pressures are a more nebulous stat. Pro Football Focus credited Paye with nine pressures against the Jets’ Mike White and Josh Johnson. The Colts had him with five.
Regardless the numbers, Paye spent much of the game in the Jets’ backfield.
Early in the first quarter, he used his power to walk left tackle George Fant into the face of White. Later in the period and from the left side, Paye whipped right tackle Morgan Moses – he started outside, then burst inside – and drove White into the ground, forcing a third-and-6 incompletion.
In the second quarter, he provided inside pressure against Fant that forced Johnson to step up into the waiting arms of tackle Taylor Stallworth, and he exerted more pressure in the fourth quarter by slipping the block of tight end Ryan Griffin, driving past Moses and pulling Johnson to the ground just as he released the football.
“How you effect the quarterback is the most important thing, and one of those ways is to get pressure and get hits on the quarterback,’’ Eberlus said. “So we’re continuing to do that. We’re continuing to work on that.’’
Paye’s development was impeded by a hamstring injury that kept him out of the Miami and Baltimore games. He’ll do the necessary rehab work on the hamstring, but also made it clear it won’t keep him off the field unless it gets worse.
“It’s still there,’’ he said, “but my thing was, I was just tired of just not playing.
“I’m at the stage where I’m like ‘eff it’, you know? I want to go out there and plaly with my guys. I’m not going to let anything hold me back the rest of the season. If I’m banged up, I’m banged up. I want to go ball with my bros.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.