Conjuring up a pass rush for the Colts

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 were near the bottom of the NFL in sacks last season. Can a new defensive coordinator and some minor roster additions improve that number in 2016?

The Colts had just 35 sacks in 2015. That number put them at 28th in the NFL. It is safe to say that defensive coordinator Ted Monachino has his work cut out for him.

You don’t have to have a great pass rush to have a great defense. The Arizona Cardinals were 27th in sacks and featured the third most efficient defense in the NFL. The difference is that a fantastic pass rush can take a defense to a Super Bowl, as we saw with the Denver Broncos.

The Colts pass rush arguably got worse this offseason as well. Jonathan Newsome was cut after a dismal sophomore year and an off field incident and the veterans, well, they’re another year closer to retirement.

The team is once again hoping for heroics from Robert Mathis to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks. While Mathis clearly has quite a bit left in the tank, it is unlikely that 35-year old with a 10-times operated on Achilles will replicate his 2013 season. Trent Cole, the backup plan in case of further injury to Mathis, hasn’t exactly panned out but did play better at the end of last year.

Earlier in the week, Monachino spoke about what he expects from the defense and pass rush.

"“I’m a pressure guy. I think the best pass defense is a good pass rush, and that’s where we’re going to begin in the system. But there’s enough variety that you’re really not going to know who it is and from where they’re coming.”“There’s no question that Robert still has a dominant trait as a pass-rusher. We’ve got him and Trent and Erik (Walden) and even some of our young pass-rushers that we have brought in have that potential to win on their own. From the defensive-line standpoint, I think what you see are guys that can win in short space. We give them an opportunity to do that with some movement.“We can expect some production out of that group. But I think across the league you’ll see that most of the productive rushes come outside on those tackles. That’s where it happens, but the more push we can gain inside, the better Robert and Trent and Erik and Earl and those guys will look outside.”"

The trio of Mathis, Cole, and Erik Walden accounted for just 13 sacks last season, with Mathis recording seven of them.

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The good news for the outside linebackers is that the pass rush in 2016 won’t be solely dependent on their efforts. The Colts are going to get a big boost from the defensive line. Of the team’s 35 sacks, 12 of them came from the defensive line, with free agent signee Kendall Langford leading the way with seven.

An improved defensive line will lead to more pressure on opposing quarterbacks, get the QB off his mark and he’s more likely to make a mistake or walk right into a sack. This unit was a liability just two seasons ago and could easily be the team’s most talented and deepest position on the roster this year.

The Colts will get Henry Anderson back on the line this season. He will get the chance to improve on an impressive rookie campaign that was cut short. Rookie Hassan Ridgeway is one of the best interior pass rusher in this draft class too. Just having those two on the field could make a big difference and that’s before you add the possibility of Art Jones actually remaining healthy all year long.

That trio alone could be a solid starting unit on a line that will see plenty of rotation. The aforementioned Langford is poised to continue earning his deal in year two (and has already shown he’s much better in a 3-4 scheme). David Parry did his best in year one and there is a lot to like about the young nose tackle. T.Y. McGill closed out the year strong with three sacks and gives the Colts some nice depth.

Next: Who will start at inside linebacker?

Pass rush is definitely going to be done by committee this season. While a few players are clearly better suited for the job, the Colts will likely still have to blitz regularly in 2016 to generate pressure.

The bigger concern is where the pass rush of the future will come from. A number of positions feature old veterans who will need to be replaced soon. Is there a young diamond in the rough on this roster or will the Colts still be searching come next years draft?