The Indianapolis Colts lost to the New England Patriots 45-7 in the AFC Championship game and enter the offseason clearly in need of more pieces to build to reach their ultimate goal of the Super Bowl. They have a number of needs on the team, though some are greater needs than others, and we'll be taking a look at some of those needs over the next week or two. Today, we continue our series by looking at the pass rush - and, again, note that this series is not ranking the needs but rather exploring them one by one, regardless of how big of a need that particular position is.
The 2014 Colts had a lot of issues, certainly, and a lot of them were on the defensive side of the football. One of the most obvious issues, though, was the lack of a consistent pass rush.
The only way the Colts could generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks was through blitzing, and because of that the consistency was missing - especially when going up against good offenses. Some Colts, such as Jonathan Newsome and Erik Walden, really stepped up their game in this area, but it was still a big issue and one that didn't give much confidence whatsoever.
Just how bad was the pass rush in 2014? Right now, a soon-to-be 34-year old player coming off of a torn Achilles is still clearly the best pass rusher on the roster. And that's nothing against Robert Mathis, who has been fantastic for the last decade and who led the league in sacks two seasons ago with 19.5 - it's more of an indication of how bad the rest of the pass rush talent is around him. In 2013, the pass rush was all Mathis - he accounted for close to half of the team's sacks. In 2014, without Mathis, the team-leader was Jonathan Newsome with 6.5 sacks.
It's hard to really fault Ryan Grigson for the pass rush failures last year because the Colts didn't know Mathis would miss the entire season (though Grigson does deserve criticism for the Bjoern Werner pick). This year, there will be no such excuse, because while Mathis is returning and that's a big positive, it's still going to be hard to count on him returning to the absolute dominant level he was at before his injury. He was one of the best pass rushers in the NFL two years ago and the second most important Colt behind Andrew Luck - can he live up to those expectations in 2015? One thing we've learned from Mathis is to never count him out, but my guess is that he'll be a good pass rusher but not a great one.
So even with Robert Mathis back, the Colts could use pass rush help. I do think the Colts have bigger needs than this area, but it's still something that the Colts would be smart to address. Jonathan Newsome really impressed in his rookie season and he'll absolutely have a bigger role next season when it comes to rushing the passer, but on the flip side Bjoern Werner was awful in 2014. What the Colts really need is a consistent pass rush threat that can come even when the team doesn't send blitzes. Robert Mathis can provide that, but can he do the same when he's 34-years old coming off of a torn Achilles? Hopefully so, but the Colts shouldn't count on it. And as such, they should look to add a piece or two to the pass rush puzzle with the purpose of building a pass rush that can succeed consistently without having to bring extra guys at the quarterback - something they were desperately lacking in 2014.