The Indianapolis Colts have a lot of areas of need, particularly on the defensive side of the football, but perhaps none are bigger than their need for a pass rusher. In 2015, the Colts struggled to get any semblance of a pass rush, ranking 22nd in the league with 35 sacks and recording 85 quarterback hits. 28 players in the NFL had more than the Colts' leading sacker (Robert Mathis and Kendall Langford tied for the team lead with seven each).
The Colts brought in Trent Cole as a free agent last offseason and he was largely invisible. Jonathan Newsome, who showed promise in his rookie season in 2014, was even more invisible. Bjoern Werner, the team's first round draft pick in 2013, didn't record a single sack. Instead, the team turned to their ever-reliable 34-year old pass rusher who was coming off of a torn Achilles, and Robert Mathis did produce seven sacks. Defensive lineman Kendall Langford, who was signed primarily to be a run stopper, also recorded seven sacks. Inside linebackers D'Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman, outside linebacker Erik Walden, defensive lineman T.Y. McGill, and Trent Cole all tied for third on the team with three sacks each.
The bottom line is this: the Colts' pass rush was a major concern in 2015 and has been for the past several seasons. The task of working to improve that now falls to new defensive coordinator Ted Monachino, who had spent the past several seasons as the Ravens' linebackers coach before the Colts hired him last week. Many are wondering what to expect from Monachino's defense (he's never been a coordinator before), and Colts.com's Kevin Bowen caught up with him to talk about that very thing. And something he wants to focus on? The pass rush.
Monachino called the pass rush "priority No. 1" in his defense, adding that, "there are a lot of different ways you can look at pass coverage but the way I look at it - the best pass defense is a good pass rush."
That's something we heard Chuck Pagano say last season as well, as he noted that a reliable pass rush helps all areas of the defense, especially the cornerbacks. When the corners aren't left in coverage for several seconds every play, they are put in a much better chance to succeed. So, as you can see, it goes hand in hand. And for Monachino's defense, the pass rush is the top priority - meaning that the Colts probably should focus on that a bit this offseason.
Monachino added a few other aspects of his defense that he focuses on, and I'm guessing Colts fans will like what they hear (though it's much easier to say than to do). Firstly, Monachino wants his defense to be one that attacks. "You expect (the defense) to be sound and simple in a way that our guys can play full speed all the time," Monachino told Bowen. "You expect it to be aggressive in everything that we do, yet smart in everything that we do in the backend. We are never going to coach caution into a great player. We are always going to coach full speed."
Another thing that Monachino pointed out was putting his players in a position to succeed. For example, he mentioned that if someone's strength is pass rushing, then that player will rush the passer most of the time (Colts fans who thought Robert Mathis dropped into coverage too often will like to hear this). "Philosophically," Monachino said, "we have to do everything we can to make sure our players are in the position to make sure they can play their best and make plays when they have the opportunity to."
It will be interesting to see the Colts' defense under Ted Monachino, especially considering the fact that Chuck Pagano is still around as head coach. But it sounds like Monachino will emphasize pass rush, will seek to have an attacking defense, and will seek to put his players in the best position possible to succeed. If he simply is able to do those three things with the Colts' defense, I'm sure he'll be very well received by fans.