Time for the second installment of the Positional Reviews from the 2010 season. Collin talked about the OTs here and I'm going to stay in the trenches with the Defensive Tackles today. As Collin stated, there will be no "grades" but an overall look at the strengths and weaknesses of each position.
This was an up and down year for the interior of the Colts Defensive Line. There has been discussion (and disagreement) throughout the year as to the level of performance that some of our players have shown. Some people really liked what Fili Moala showed this season and others are not sold. Antonio Johnson was moved out of the starting lineup for the majority of the season. Dan Muir seemed to regress away from the penetrating force we saw two years ago. We will look more in-depth after the jump.
We all see DTs as the beginning of our run defense. Holding up at the point of attack and allowing LBs to fill their gap assignments is the job of the Colts' tackles. A quick glance at rushing statistics shows that we gave 2,032 rushing yards this year (8th worst in the league) at a rate of 4.6 yards per carry (6th worst). While many pundits will point to this a huge reason why the colts did not thrive in the playoffs, a quick refute to that argument is the Packers playing this weekend. They gave up less year, but more YPC this season.
Looking for some more advanced stats for overview purposes, I checked out the Football Outsiders Defensive Line rankings. It paints a little different picture for us. Looking at the Power Success ranking of 8th in the league seems to show that up the middle we were strong. Looking at 2nd level and Open Field rankings in the mid-high 20s seems to show that our "back 7" were not as good at tackling as they have been in the past. That breakdown comes later though. Let's look at some individual players.
1) Fili Moala
While Fili's training camp exploits gained him no love, this 2nd year player out of Southern Cal jumped into the starting lineup this year. He paid dividends early with a fumble recovery TD this year against the Giants in week 2.
Throughout the season, Moala showed flashes of what he could be. He would have games where he was ALWAYS in the backfield. The problem with these games were that he often did not complete the play when he was there to make it. He would also have games where it seemed like he would disappear for the whole game (5 games with ZERO tackles). He ended up fourth among DTs in tackles, but tied for second on the team with 4 tackles for a loss on the year.
I, like many am you, am not ready to say Moala has arrived. I am willing to say that this year was a step forward for him. We all know he can play the position, what we need to see is CONSISTENCY!
2) Antonio Johnson
Many of us were surprised when Dan Muir continued to start all season when it looked like "Mookie" was outplaying him against the run. He accumulated the same stats as Fili while playing far fewer snaps. I know I was devistated to find out he was not available for the playoff game against the Jets.
While his stats don't bear it out, Antonio was the best at the point of attack this year. He held up when others fell. Games like the one against Oakland were a great example of what he was able to accomplish this season. Consistency was a little better with Mookie, but it still could be improved.
I don't think it's a coincidence that when he started the last four games of the season the Defense only gave up 80 yards per game. He is not under contract for next season and I would say it's a priority to re-sign him!
3) Daniel Muir
After coming in during the 2008 season, Muir jumped up on Colts' depth chart during the 2009 by playing in all 16 games and amassing 52 tackles. He stepped into the starting lineup this year and we all expected the same type of production. His season was a bit of a conundrum.
While he was leading the Defensive Line in tackles, he also consistently got pushed around by inside O-Linemen. As much of a surprise as Muir was during the 2009 season, he was that much of a disappointment this year. I would have to go back and watch the season again (in my plans for this off-season) but I would guess that a large majority of his tackles came from being pushed out of the play and making a tackle from the backside.
He is another Colt without a contract next year and my vote would be to not re-sign him. I see more talent available even late in the draft.
4) Eric Foster
Anyone who has been to a game at the Luke will know Foster for the dancing he does to "rev up" the defense during pre-game. Nothing funnier than a fat man dancing!
As our major situational pass rushing tackle, Foster led all DTs with 3.5 sacks this year. His motor seems to run at a high level in those situations and it makes him a better player for it. He did see time in every game this season (joining Moala) as the only other tackle to do that.
Foster also saw time at DE as well and his flexibility there makes him an asset. He is not under contract for next year and I do think he will be re-signed. I see his flexibility and motor as strong points for the Colts.
5) Overall Assessment
While the season started on a sour note for all defensive players, especially those tasked with "stopping the run," my evaluation of the DTs sits right at expected levels for me. I expected Muir to be better than he was. I thought Moala would be worse than he was. Johnson and Foster were strong where I expected and remained weak in other areas. In total it was an up and down season.
I know I mentioned it a couple of times in the recap, but CONSISTENCY is the key. We had games where we were world beaters (see Weeks 14 -17) and weeks where we looked like Pee-Wee that didn't know how to read a playbook (see Week 1).
The regression of Muir was the biggest disappointment of the year. The penetration that Moala was able to get gives me hope for him down the line. Re-signing Mookie is my number one priority for this unit as he and Moala would be a good starting duo and allow a later round draft pick to develop a bit. I feel like the development of Matthews may be hindered if there is an extended work stoppage. He needs to OTAs and camp to work his way into this line.
6) Draft Potential
While there are a lot of Mock Drafts floating around that have the Colts taking a DT in the first round, I do not expect Polian to go this way. He has not taken a DT in the first EVER in his career. I would expect a later round pick to go to tackle. We can debate whether this is the right strategy or not, but the truth is that this position in the Colts' system is not a priority. I like a guy like Sione Fua from Stanford in the 4th or 5th.