Ever since the Indianapolis Colts made their switch to a base 3-4 defense this offseason, I have had my doubts about how Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis would adjust to playing outside linebacker. In particular, I had my doubts about Dwight Freeney. I fully believed that the Colts should have traded him this offseason.
Once training camp started, reports out of Anderson seemed to indicate that Freeney liked the change and was adjusting well. And then the preseason games started. Three games into it, Dwight Freeeny has a combined 1 total tackle. That is it for his stat line. No sacks, QB hits, nothing. What has happened to Freeney?
I went back and watched every down he has played this preseason. What I saw was not very comforting.
In the Colts three preseason games so far this year (in which they are 1-2), Freeney has played 55 downs, by my count. Roughly 87% of those plays Freeney was either standing up on the right side or with his hand on the ground on the left. The latter will seem familiar to Colts fans, as that is where he has played his entire career. That spot is actually where he has lined up most this preseason, which is interesting (right side standing up is a close second). Overall, out of the 55 total plays, Freeney has dropped back into coverage a total of 8 times. Only one of those involved man coverage (on now former Redskins tight end Chris Cooley, who Freeney actually did a nice job covering - one of his best plays this preseason, although he had to cover him for only a second or two). The others were just Freeney dropping back into a zone coverage, usually covering the right flat. Freeney has yet to allow a pass to be caught by a person he is guarding.
The real concern this preseason has been the complete lack of pressure by Dwight Freeney. Jerry Hughes has recorded three sacks, Freeney and Mathis combined have zero. And no, it is not because Freeney is being double teamed all the time, in fact I only saw once where he was double teamed this preseason. Most of the time, he is blocked by either the right or left tackle and doesn't get off the block. In my notes of the games, I wrote "good quick burst" only five times. That doesn't mean there were only five times when he really got off the line quickly, but those were the only times I really noticed it.
Yeah, he has had some nice pass rushes - but not for Dwight Freeney. Since when has Freeney been a guy who we are happy with getting "close" to the quarterback? He doesn't even have a freaking quarterback hit yet. Granted, there were a few plays where he may have gotten a hit on the quarterback, but it was a quick release and the ball was out before Freeney got there.
In my opinion, his two best plays this year have both been ones where he got "close", or at least had an impact. The first was against the Rams, where he rushed from the right and Mathis rushed from the left, and they both collapsed the pocket on Bradford. Nonetheless, Bradford got the ball away without being hit by either, but the pressure was there.
The second came last game against the Redskins. Freeney was standing up on the right side and got a nice burst (one of the five I wrote down) and got around the right tackle. He came around for Robert Griffin III but RG3 stepped up as Freeney was forced around him by the right tackle. However, RG3 stepped up right into pressure by Jerry Hughes (he still got the throw away but got hit).
It is concerning to me that Dwight Freeney has struggled so much generating pressure on the opposing quarterbacks. Granted, its only three games, but it concerns me, especially with my doubts entering the season. Even on the plays where he was playing essentially at his old spot he has had trouble getting any pressure whatsoever on the quarterback. And don't even get me started with the run game - he has been nonexistent there too. Well, I guess nonexistent isn't the same as just overrunning the play - which Freeney did multiple times.
He has never been that good at run defense, however, so that is not what really concerns me. If he still gets the pressure that Dwight Freeney is known for getting, we won't care much as a fan base that he has trouble stopping the run. But right now, he's not getting that pressure. Why? Honestly, I don't know. He rushed on most of the passing plays he was in (all but 4), but didn't have an impact.
Again, the real reason I am disturbed by Freeney's preseason play is because he has been playing at his old position more than anywhere else. And yet still he has generated next to no pressure.
This isn't Jerry Hughes we are talking about, where decent plays would be called good. This is Dwight Freeney - the best pass rusher in the NFL over the past decade.
Freeney is still adjusting to the new defense. It will take time, and I am confident that after more playing time at linebacker he will improve. I am confident that Freeney can create pressure again from the left defensive end spot. But from watching every one of his 55 snaps this preseason, I am not impressed at all.
Because so far this preseason, Dwight Freeney has really had no impact at all.
What does that mean? It furthers my opinion that the Colts should try to trade him. The problem is, he is making a lot of money this year. In fact, I saw today that he is the highest paid player in the NFL for 2012. That kind of money is not easy to get rid - even with someone of Freeney's caliber. And now, with other teams able to see Freeney struggling this preseason (even at defensive end) the value that the Colts would get back would be diminished anyways.
Look, I don't think he's going to get cut, as some fans are suggesting. There's too much money there, and everyone likes Freeney. But if they get a chance, I think the Colts need to consider moving him.
I hope I'm wrong, but watching Dwight Freeney this preseason has solidified my opinion that he is going to struggle mightily in 2012. Again, I hope I'm wrong, but I fear I'm not.
Because this preseason, he has been pretty much nonexistent.