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Why isn't Mathis starting? (and why it's a good thing)

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Robert Mathis started only 2 games this past season. Pro Bowl defensive end Robert Mathis started 2 games. He played in 15. Josh Thomas started 3! Why is the player who has led the team in sacks 4 straight years no longer in the starting lineup?

Lets look at the last 5 seasons to find out

Year Starts (Played) Sacks Sack per game
2004 1 (16) 10.5 .656
2005 0 (13) 11.5 .885
2006 16 (16) 9.5 .594
2007 12 (13) 7.0 .538
2008 2 (15) 11.5 .767

 

Mathis' productivity (as a pass rusher) decreased significantly when he was the full time LE. You don't usually expect a player to be less productive if he plays more, but it's not surprising that a 245lb DE gets worn down and beaten up playing every down.

Raheem Brock picked up the starts, putting together a DL high 15 between LE and DT. Brock was the starting LE for 2004 and 2005 with Mathis playing the specialist. This past season was a return to that arrangement after 2 seasons of Brock playing mostly inside.

With Josh Thomas gone and a young corps of DTs (with hopefully another couple on the way) Brock is likely remaining at LE to absorb run downs, both improving the run D when he's on the field and the pass D when a fresh Mathis comes onto the field. Whether Brock's free time will continue to be spent sliding inside or if he'll take Josh Thomas' role of spelling Freeney instead remains to be seen, either way Indy appears to have desided the old way of utilizing both Mathis and Brock was best.