So far this off-season we have looked at the Bookends and the Hog-Mollies on the O-Line and the Big Uglys on the defensive front. Now it's time for the Defensive Ends. The first thing to mention when talking about this position is the amount the Colts have invested in it. From my salary breakdown from before I was a writer, I found the DEs made close to $23 million this year.
When you have two players like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis that stay healthy all season, you are going to have good production out of your pass rushing ends. While ends do not do ALL the QB sacking, it is the first thing we look at for ends. This year we had 30 sacks as a team with 10 coming on 1st, 6 on 2nd and 14 on 3rd down. We also held the trend of adding pressure as the game went along with sack totals by quarter going 4, 6, 8 and 12.
We'll look at the individual players after the jump.
I might as well get to the hot button that is Jerry Hughes first. Welcome to this season's Joseph Addai. Last off-season all the talk on this blog was about the value of Joe (I think the injuries this year showed just how valuable Joe is to this team!) So far this off-season much has been said about the value (or lack there over) Jerry provided this season. He can be first on my evaluation list.
1) Jerry Hughes
After the Super Bowl last year, Bill Polian came out and said the O-Line was to blame for the loss. While we all saw the problems the Line had, most of us would have said that the injury to Dwight Freeney and our lack of pass rush in the second half is what really cost us the game. Enter Jerry Hughes.
Much was made during the draft of Hughes being on the field and contributing right away. That comment MUST be taken with a grain of salt. YES, first round picks MUST contribute. NO, I didn't want him to contribute at DE. If he's on the field as a DE, it means Freeney of Mathis is out. I want our All-Pros on the field as much as possible.
I was expecting more from Jerry this year though. When a first round pick is a healthy scratch from multiple games, it is clear that the coaches are NOT seeing what they want. Jerry accumulated only 6 tackles, 1 for a loss this season. So the next logical question is, what did you want from Jerry.
My idea of a first round pick is one that should be able to come in and have an impact. If that player is behind an all-pro or two, he ought to be athletic enough to be a force on special teams. My biggest disappointment in Jerry this year was his lack of presence on kickoff coverage and returns. Special teams success is all about WANT TO. Hustle and Desire are traits that special team-ers love on. Jerry didn't seem to show that this year. I think back to a player like Darrell Reid. I was hoping for something like that out of Jerry in his first year and it just wasn't there.
This is not to say that I think he should be labeled a bust. If we see the same kind of production next year, then I'm willing to start looking at that label. Every player deserves one year to learn the NFL. This is the highest level of one of the toughest games in the world. They are owed that much. My lenience will end at that point though. A team that builds thorough the draft CANNOT afford to have unproductive first round picks.
2) Robert Mathis
Robert pulls the top spot in our DE tree for his performance this year. He was our lone defensive Pro Bowler. While Freeney did make the Pro Bowl, he did not play. Robert was 7th on the team this season with 60 tackles. He also led the team with 11 sacks.
As good as Mathis was this year, there were times that he seemed to disappear during games. Mathis did seem to come through when we needed him though. When you look at his sacks and tackles per quarter, he had the most sacks in the 4th and the most tackles in the first. He seemed to realize that teams wanted to run against us to start the game and then was there to help close it out at the end.
Mathis started this season with a holdout of camps for a better contract. His wish was not granted and he ended up producing one of his best seasons. Mathis is still under contract for next year and the Colts don't tend to re-do contracts at a players request. Hopefully it motivates him to perform the way he did this year.
3) Dwight Freeney
We all know what Freeney does when he's on. That spin move, when set up, is un-blockable. He can bull rush an OT into the QBs lap. We know what we are gonna get with him and will take it anyday of the week and twice on Thursday.
Freeney was right on par with his average for tackles this year with 25 total. While some may worry about the runs that go his direction and are big gainers, I personally think it's worth it. The attention that Freeney commands is the stuff of legends. Anytime the opposing offense has to spend time and extra players to blocking Freeney, it opens up lanes for the other members of the defense.
With Coyer new blitz more scheme, I can see it opening things up for Freeney. If the O-line has to shift protection because of the blitz (or threat of the blitz) it should grab some more one on one matchups for Dwight. The thing I want to less of is stunts!
While Freeney is fast, making him run EXTRA yards is not something I like to see. While I agree that we need to be creative in getting Freeney matchups that are in our favor, I think we should do it by sending and faking blitzes more often. With cover corners that are more able to play man, we should see that more often and it should have great success.
As the last DE listed on the roster, he saw playing time in 15 games this season. While Keyunta is not a good pass rusher, he can't stop the run either. While he was involved in 31 tackles this year, he was not credited with even half a sack. I have to wonder how many were special teams because I cannot remember one time when I was excited to see him on the field.
The only explanation I have for Dawson still being on the roster is the slow development of Hughes. It's clear that the front office though Hughes would be the backup at DE (with Foster playing at DE some too). He is a FA this year and I fully expect him to not be with the team next year. He may be camp fodder, but not much else.
When you have the talent in the starting lineup of Freeney and Mathis, the DE position is one of the more solid on the team. As long as both are healthy, the production should be up there near the tops in the league.
The thing to watch for the next season is the development of Jerry Hughes. If Hughes can't priduce his way on to the field for more snaps next season, he will truly be a wasted pick. He needs to be productive on special teams and when Freeney and Mathis need to come off the field.