One of the biggest issues for the Indianapolis Colts over the past few years has been their pass rush. Last year, the team struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks with any consistency, and the same problem has plagued them so far this year too. Trent Cole, who the Colts signed this offseason to provide a reliable pass rush option, has been invisible. Jonathan Newsome, who had an impressive rookie season, was a healthy scratch on Sunday, telling you everything you need to know about his performance this year. The issue actually dates back earlier than 2014, but in 2013 Robert Mathis was there to bail them out by recording a league-leading 19.5 sacks in an incredibly impressive season.
In 2015, the Colts need Mathis to bail them out again. The goal was that Mathis, who is 34-years old and coming off of a torn Achilles suffered last year, wouldn't have to carry the pass rush. That was the idea behind the signing of Trent Cole this offseason, and added with Newsome, the plan was that Mathis could be brought along slowly and play a role as a situational rusher. Several weeks into this season, however, it's clear that Robert Mathis is still the best option the Colts have at getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
After playing just 19 snaps against Tom Brady and the Patriots in week six, both head coach Chuck Pagano and defensive coordinator Greg Manusky admitted that they needed to get Robert Mathis more snaps and that they would do just that. On Sunday against the Saints, that was indeed the case, as Mathis was in on 52 snaps, easily a season-high (surpassing his previous high by 20 snaps). In fact, through the first six weeks of the season combined, Mathis played 108 snaps, and on Sunday he accounted for nearly half of that total in one game. He made his first start of the season (the 100th of his career) and played the most of any rush linebacker for Indy, seeing 15 more snaps than Trent Cole.
Mathis produced, too. He recorded a sack on the first play of the game and finished the day with three quarterback hits. While that might not seem like a lot, allow me to put that number in context: that one game alone would put him tied for the second-most sacks on the team this season and tied for third in quarterback hits this season. Furthermore, with three quarterback hits in a game, Mathis either tied or surpassed the total that the entire team recorded in three different games this year. This is a team desperately, desperately in need of pass rush help, and Mathis is providing some semblance of that. Despite missing a game and playing just 160 snaps overall this year, Mathis is tied for the team lead in sacks (tied with Kendall Langford) and tied for the team lead in quarterback hits (tied with Erik Walden).
It might not seem like much, but it's progress for this Colts defense to finally have someone who can get to the quarterback. Trent Cole hasn't done it this year. Jonathan Newsome did it once, but he was totally unblocked. Robert Mathis hasn't quite been the Robert Mathis of old, but he's still been the best pass rusher the Colts have this year. His snaps drastically increased on Sunday, playing the most of any rush linebacker, and until another player shows that he can get after the opposing passer, I'd expect it to stay that way.