Colts might not be able to address biggest need this offseason

Dec 20, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis (98) knocks the ball away from Houston Texans quarterback Brandon Weeden
Dec 20, 2015; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts linebacker Robert Mathis (98) knocks the ball away from Houston Texans quarterback Brandon Weeden /

The Indianapolis Colts have a number of needs to take care of during the off-season but solving the pass rush problem will be an issue in 2016.

The Colts have two glaring needs this year: pass rush and pass protection. We can argue about which need is more important, but it really might not matter. The 2016 NFL Draft is heavy on offensive line talent and fairly light when it comes to edge rushers. It also doesn’t help that this year’s crop of free agents doesn’t have many pass rushers (although it rarely does), not that the Colts can dip too heavily into this field anyway.

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The Colts have the 18th pick in the draft, and while that normally means getting a slightly more talented player, it doesn’t help them with the pass rush problem. They’re at a spot where they can hope for a highly touted player to fall or reach on someone who might be a bit of a project.

Compounding the problem is the Colts 3-4 scheme. While this style of defense can be incredibly versatile and create problems for opponents, it also requires some very specific player types in the front seven. Those edge rushers are difficult to find and the fact that Robert Mathis was able to move from a 4-3 defensive end to outside linebacker was a small miracle.

The top end talent like Joey Bosa, Deforest Buckner, Shaq Lawson, or Kevin Dodd are likely going to be gone by the 18th pick. It is also unlikely the Colts will take someone like Noah Spence due to character issues. The Colts don’t want to press for another pass rusher and end up in another Bjoern Werner situation (although there were more issues than just reaching on the pick).

This isn’t to say the Colts can’t find a decent pass rusher in the draft, but just that it likely won’t be in the first round. They are far more likely to take a guard or a center with this pick in another attempt to bolster Andrew Luck‘s protection.

Free agency isn’t going to be any better for Indianapolis either. Good pass rushers are coveted prizes and are quickly becoming the second highest paid players on the roster after quarterbacks. Some of the notable names like Jason Pierre-Paul or Olivier Vernon are defensive ends and not really a fit for the Colts. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali is one notable name, but he’s also 32 and the Colts could end up with another Trent Cole situation by signing him.

For the Colts right now, it looks an awful lot like Mathis-or-bust when it comes to the pass rush. If they can’t find some magic in free agency or the draft, the Colts will once again be relying too much on the blitz to bring down opposing QBs. This over reliance on blitzing has been a fundamental problem for the defense over the past few years.

Blitzing takes away at least one defender from coverage or rushing lanes and if it doesn’t land (or happen to have a defender meeting the running back) it leads to a big gain for the opposition. Couple that problem with the sometimes soft coverage from the middle linebackers (especially if Jerrell Freeman is the one blitzing) with only one good cornerback and a competent QB can pick this defense apart.

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This is a very good draft for building in the trenches and setting up a solid foundation for the future. The Colts are still talented enough (when healthy) to compete with almost anyone and will be in contention for the AFC South title once again. Just don’t expect the Colts to fix the pass rush in 2016.