The Indianapolis Colts ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in pass rush last season, and right now the pressure is on an aging veteran to get to opposing QBs next season.
The Colts had just 35 sacks last season and struggled to generate anything resembling consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Prior to the season, the list of pass rushers looked promising. Jonathan Newsome was coming off leading the team in sacks in his rookie year. Trent Cole was added to the roster in free agency, and Robert Mathis was coming back after missing 2014 to injury.
But the trio couldn’t perform as expected. Mathis led the team in sacks with seven (tied with Kendall Langford) in 15 games and playing limited snaps for the first few weeks of the season. Mathis was never truly consistent, and merely flashed his former greatness at times (it also didn’t help he was dropped in coverage far too often).
More from Horseshoe Heroes
- Colts explored hiring former quarterback and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky
- When is the NFL Combine 2023? NFL Combine schedule, events, how to stream
- Latest NFL mock draft has Colts trading up to No. 1 for star QB
- Eagles offensive free agents that could follow Shane Steichen to Colts
- Here’s why Colts linebacker Shaq Leonard is going to love Shane Steichen
Cole was a complete bust and finished with just three sacks, all very late in the season. Cole often looked lost and was easily swallowed up by tackles in one-on-one blocking schemes.
Newsome appeared to regress completely this season. After 6.5 sacks his rookie year, Newsome had just one this season (albeit against the Tom Brady). He didn’t see the field as much due to the addition of Cole and return of Mathis, but Newsome didn’t make the most of his limited opportunities and looked lost on the field often.
There are plenty of holes on the Colts roster that need to be addressed, but pass rush has to be near the top of that offseason to do list. As Jim Irsay said a few weeks ago, this team has to get younger and rush linebacker is a good position to start with.
Mathis will turn 35 later this month. Cole turns 34 in October. The youth on this team, Newsome and first round bust Bjoern Werner, is not panning out. The Colts have to find some young talent to bolster the most important facet of any defense.
Over at Colts.com, Kevin Bowen talked to new defensive coordinator Ted Monachino about his defensive plans for Mathis in 2016.
"“Robert Mathis is going to be a huge part of (the pass rush),” Monachino says. “(He) always has been and always will be.“We will make sure that we continue to grow him and develop him that maybe he can finish his career at the peak of his career. That would be a great thing.”"
The Colts can’t keep relying on Mathis to save the defense. That plan backfired in 2014 nor did it work this past season, even after attempts to buy some insurance against further injury (via Cole).
But in Mathis’ defense, he is heading into 2016 fully healthy (as of now) and won’t be coming off 10 surgeries to repair his achilles. At the end of the season, Mathis was ready to start 2016 right away.
“To go into an offseason and not have to have any surgeries, procedures or anything, it maximizes your offseason,” Mathis said. “No setbacks. I feel great. I’m ready for next season right now. We can line them up right now.”
Langford did an admirable job, seeming to improve as the season moved on, and proved to be a good addition to the defensive line. Also improving the situation will be the return of Henry Anderson, who tore his ACL midway through the season. There is some potential already on the roster, but the Colts need help at outside linebacker.
Hopefully the Colts can get Mathis some help this offseason so the whole pass rush isn’t dependent on his abilities. This is absolutely where the team needs to get younger and find a productive player in the draft. The 2015 Broncos have proven just how dominant a defense can be if you don’t have to blitz and get pressure with three or four players consistently. The mid-2000s Colts defense thrived on four man rushes as well.
Mathis might have something left in the tank, but the Colts can’t afford to bank on him again in 2016.