There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding Robert Mathis right now. Not only is he a 34-year old pass rusher, he's also coming off of a torn Achilles that caused him to miss all of last season. The last time that he played in a meaningful game was on January 11, 2014. At his age and coming back from that injury, how effective will he be? And when will he even be back?
These are questions that we really don't have a good answer to right now, and they are questions that won't be answered until we see him on the field. We don't know when that will be, either, but Mathis is planning on it being by week one in Buffalo. Though we don't have answers to many of these questions right now, that didn't stop us from putting Robert Mathis on our list of the most important Colts for the 2015 season, as he came in at number six.
For the past decade, Mathis has constantly produced pass rush for Indianapolis. He is the franchise's all-time sack leader with 111 and the NFL's all-time strip-sack leader with 44, and he has racked up four double-digit sack seasons and ten seasons with at least seven sacks. In 2013, the last time that we saw Mathis on the field in a meaningful game for the Colts, he led the NFL with 19.5 sacks, helping to carry the Colts' defense.
In 2014 without Mathis, the Colts struggled to produce any semblance of a pass rush. Sure, they managed 41 sacks, but they did that mostly by getting creative and manufacturing the pressure through blitzes. Pro Football Focus found that the Colts blitzed the third-most of any team last year. They still ranked 25th in pass rushing productivity while blitzing, but that was better than their 31st ranking when not blitzing. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky did an admirable job in trying to generate pressure, but the pass rush as a whole was a massive struggle and weakness for the Colts in 2014.
Now, entering 2015, the hope is that Robert Mathis will be back and be effective. The Colts have a contingency plan if that doesn't happen, as they signed Trent Cole in free agency and have Jonathan Newsome (who led the team in sacks last year) returning and looking to improve. But let's be clear: the Colts are counting on Robert Mathis being a part of their plans defensively and helping them rush the quarterback in 2015. Head coach Chuck Pagano recently told ESPN's Ed Werder that Mathis will have a "huge impact" this season, and while part of that is certainly coach speak, it also helps show us what the Colts are thinking for the pass rusher this year.
I think most people assume that it won't be the Robert Mathis of old, as he's probably not going to be leading the league in sacks this year. But if he could give them solid production and at least resemble his former self, that would be huge for this defense. All you have to do is think back to how important Mathis was to the team's 2013 defense and how many game-changing plays he made to see just how huge it would be if he could even play anywhere near that level.
We don't know exactly what to expect from Robert Mathis in 2015, nor do we know for sure when he will be back. But one thing that we do know for sure: the Colts are counting on the pass rusher, and if he can give them good play this year that would be a massive boost to a defense that could really use help pressuring the quarterback.
Past rankings on this list: 4th (2014), 2nd (2013)
Check out our list counting down the 15 most important players to the Colts' success in 2015:
15. Jerrell Freeman, ILB
14. Greg Toler, CB
7. Mike Adams, S
6. Robert Mathis, OLB