A lot has been made recently about the offensive line for the Colts, and especially about whether they should bring in Richie Incognito, but that's actually not the most prevalent concern for the Colts for the next month. Neither is the safety position, even though the status of Delano Howell is up in the air (he's still being evaluated, per Chuck Pagano). No, the biggest concern the Colts will have for this next month is the pass rush.
On Saturday, the Colts begin life without Robert Mathis for a month as he serves a league-mandated suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. He has been allowed to participate in training camp and preseason, but for the first four weeks of the regular season, they'll be without him.
"Ever since the suspension came down, we've been talking about and planning what he was going to do in that four-week period," Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said Tuesday. "It's different when a guy can be in the facility for a suspension. We've been down that road. You see them every day. They can do everything in the building except practice. His case is a heck of a lot different.
"We've made plans for Robert. He's going to have a routine. He's going to have a regimen as far as working out, weight room-wise, conditioning-wise. Football, he's got to continue to hone and develop his skill set. There's people out there that will work with Robert and he can go out and hire whoever he wants to hire. He's got a regimen from his position coach from a drills standpoint. We can't have him come back in Week 5 for Baltimore and we're starting from scratch, so to speak. He's got a great plan. I know Robert and everybody in this building knows Robert will stick to that plan and be ready to roll once he gets back."
Mathis will be eligible to return from his suspension on October 5th, in a home game against the Baltimore Ravens. Does Pagano expect Mathis to be ready for that game? "He doesn't have a choice," the coach replied. "He knows that. We don't have to even tell him that. I kid around, but he's the one that made that decision. He's got something to prove, something to give back to those guys. I'm not worried at all about how he'll be once he returns."
While the Colts know Mathis and know that he's a veteran guy who will show up after his suspension ready to go, they won't be able to check in and make sure. In fact, there's no contact with Mathis allowed. "Zero. Zero," Pagano reiterated. "Players, coaches, nobody. I got a memo, a laundry list of dos and don'ts on it. There's more don'ts than dos. That's including you guys [the media], so if you have his cell, burn it."
Before the Colts get Mathis back, they'll have to face the Broncos, Eagles, Jaguars, and Titans. Of course, that means they'll have to face Peyton Manning. Robert Mathis had a great game against Manning's Broncos last year, and Pagano talked today about how that makes a huge difference. "Those hits, once that starts to happen, I don't care who you are," Pagano said. "Those great quarterbacks, they're able to put that behind him and keep their eyes down the field. When that happens, you start feeling that presence. You start feeling that rush. Your eyes tend to drop a little bit.
"You might start watching things that are happening upfront rather than keeping your eyes down field. Peyton is the best that's ever played the game when it comes to focusing on that. When you've got game wreckers breathing down your neck down-after-down, obviously it makes a difference."
The Colts will have to play without their biggest defensive game wrecker for four games, including against the Broncos. The pass rush was the defense's biggest weakness against the Saints in the third preseason, and despite Bjoern Werner's progress this year in camp and preseason, playing without Mathis won't be good for the Colts. Beginning on Saturday, the Colts won't have any contact with last year's sack champion until after week four.