Coming into the season, I was skeptical of the Colts' pass rush after looking at the talent they had. I saw Robert Mathis as the only legitimate option to rush the passer on the defense, and I didn't know whether or not he could handle that. After all, ever since he came into the league in 2004 he was playing alongside Dwight Freeney. But this offseason, the Colts made the move to part ways with Freeney, and several (including myself) fairly wondered whether or not Mathis could handle the load by himself. Mathis didn't like people like me or Andrew Mishler asking that question. While it was a fair question to ask at the time, the answer couldn't have been more clear: he's more than capable of handling the load. In fact, he's off to the best start of his career.
Robert Mathis, I'm sorry I doubted you.
He hasn't just proved that he can handle it, he's crushed any reasonable expectation for him coming into the season. Through just five games, he has racked up 9.5 sacks, forced 2 fumbles, and recorded 24 tackles (1 for loss) and a pass deflection.
To put those numbers in perspective for you, Mathis already has 1.5 more sacks, 1 more forced fumble, just 9 less tackles, and just 1 less pass deflection in 7 less games than he had in his Pro Bowl season a year ago. In his 11 year career (including this year), he has notched 9.5 sacks or more 8 times (and 4 times he has exceeded the 9.5 mark). Not once had he recorded 9.5 sacks or more in a season playing less than 13 games - until this year. This year, he has 9.5 through 5 games.
Yeah, that's the most in the NFL (Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston is second with 8.5, also very impressive). But look a little further, and just leading the league doesn't do this start justice. Here's a more in depth look at Mathis' season so far (hint: it has been really, really good).
- Robert Mathis, with 9.5 sacks, has more sacks than four different NFL teams. Teams. Great stat from the Indy Star's Stephen Holder: the Vikings (9), Bears (9), Giants (5), and Steelers (4) each have less sacks as a team than Mathis does individually. The Bears and Giants have each played 6 games as well, while Mathis has only played in 5 so far (as Chicago and New York played in the Thursday night game last night).
- You want the Colts' team totals in sacks? Here it is, broken down player by player for everybody who has appeared in the stat book in the sack category: Robert Mathis (9.5), Jerrell Freeman (3), Cory Redding (1.5), Pat Angerer (0.5), Bjoern Werner (0.5). So yeah, Robert Mathis has 9.5 sacks and the rest of the team combined has 5.5.
- <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Robert Mathis is one of six starting 3-4 OLBs to have not missed a tackle this season.</p>— Kyle J. Rodriguez (@ColtsAuth_Kyle) <a href="https://twitter.com/ColtsAuth_Kyle/statuses/387274281794560000">October 7, 2013</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
- <blockquote class="twitter-tweet"><p>Robert Mathis has 9.5 sacks. That's the most in NFL history through in the first five weeks of the season. <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23Colts&src=hash">#Colts</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/search?q=%23NFL&src=hash">#NFL</a></p>— Kyle J. Rodriguez (@ColtsAuth_Kyle) <a href="https://twitter.com/ColtsAuth_Kyle/statuses/387008584438906880">October 7, 2013</a></blockquote> <script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
- A quick note on Kyle's stat there, as some have misinterpreted it. What Kyle is saying is that Mathis's 9.5 sacks are the most through the first five weeks of a season, not the player's first five games of a season. Kevin Greene had 10 in his first five games of the 1998 season, but the team's fifth game was in week six, not week five.
- Everybody knows that Peyton Manning is on a record pace right now, and with an average of 4 touchdown passes a game, he is on pace to set the single season touchdown record in game 13; and with an average of 376.5 yards per game he is on pace to set the single season passing yardage record in game 15. Robert Mathis, by comparison, is on pace to set the NFL single season sack record in game 12 as he is averaging 1.9 sacks per game. That's really impressive, and it needs to be talked about more.
Also of note is that in the game against the Seahawks, on the final play of the first half where Mathis got a strip sack, it was his 100th career sack. He became only the 30th player in history to reach that mark, and he added to that total later in the game, bringing him to 101 for his career. To put that in perspective, he is only 6.5 sacks away from tying Dwight Freeney's franchise record and just 7 sacks away from tying Freeney's career total. And with Freeney now out for the season and with people wondering whether he will just decide to hang it up, there seems a real possibility that Mathis will pass Freeney. In fact, it could happen this year.
Chuck Pagano said on his radio show on Monday night regarding Mathis: "he's a pro's pro, a man's man. If I had a son, I would want him to be just like Robert. He does all the right things and he's just a great football player, but he's a better person and I couldn't be happier for Robert." High praise there from the head coach. And it's deserved, too.
Mathis is a team leader and a big reason why the Colts are doing so well. He's off to the best start of his career - and one of the best starts in history, period. I think it's safe to say that Robert Mathis has more than just answered our questions - he's made the question itself look silly.