The Indianapolis Colts have quite a few areas of need heading into this offseason, but arguably the biggest one is pass rush. The team hasn't been able to generate any sort of consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, and that has caused their defense as a whole to struggle.
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano, a defensive-minded coach who wants to see his unit improve, sees the need for pass rush help as clearly as anyone - though recognizing that the team needs to be balanced to win a Super Bowl, their ultimate goal.
"First and foremost, we just saw Denver win a Super Bowl with a phenomenal defense and a great quarterback, a future first ballot Hall of Fame quarterback. So I think you always want to be balanced," Pagano said on Thursday at the NFL Combine. "It's hard with the salary cap as such and things like that, paying certain guys a certain amount of money based on that cap. [We'd] love to build a quality, dominant defense, but at the same time we certainly know that it's very important that we protect our quarterback, that we keep our quarterback upright. We all know that when he's healthy and when he's out there that we have a great opportunity to win a lot of football games."
The need for balance doesn't diminish the need for pass rushers, however, though it does make that pursuit even harder. But Pagano saw enough from Denver's remarkable Super Bowl run - as well as the other three teams who made the final four - to know that pass rush is a crucial component of a successful defense and of a successful team.
"If you look at the teams that made the conference championships and then the final two, pass rush stood out to me," Pagano said, pointing out something we mentioned at the time. "Lack of protection on offense, but the defenses getting after the quarterback. You can never have enough pass rushers. You can never have enough corners. But I think, as far as getting after the quarterback, both of those teams were able to do it with four guys. And sometimes they brought five, but you didn't see it too often. But when you have the ability to put pressure on a quarterback and effect the quarterback the way that they did with four guys, you can play coverage and you can do certain things and drop seven into coverage a lot times. It's obviously very beneficial."
The problem, however, is finding those types of pass rushers who can change a defense like that. The Colts have tried in recent years - and failed, adding the likes of Trent Cole, Bjoern Werner, and Jonathan Newsome. The Broncos have one of the league's best defensive players in the NFL in Von Miller, so Pagano realizes that there is quite a bit of challenge that goes into finding those pass rushers.
"Von Millers ain't just falling out of the sky all over the place," Pagano said, a statement that was met by laughs from those in attendance. "You know what I mean? I think he went number two a few years ago; we're not picking [number] two. I haven't evaluated this group yet, and I don't know if he's going to come available. I don't think we have the resources to get a guy like that right now anyway, but we gotta find a way to develop young guys and try to find a way to get some young guys like that on that side of the ball."
Miller absolutely won't be coming available anytime soon, as the Broncos are trying to work out a long-term deal with him but will place the franchise tag on him if necessary. But Pagano's point comes across very clearly: it's easy to say they need pass rushers, but it's much harder to actually find them. The reality, however, is that they need those young guys who they can develop at the area.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson echoed Pagano's thoughts on the need for pass rush when meeting with the media today, saying that "The old adage [is], 'if you have 12 pass rushers, go get 13.' But it's easier said than done." Grigson added that this year's draft is "not as thick as I'd like" in the area of pass rush.
Improving the pass rush isn't an easy task, and the Colts know that very well after recent failures. But the Super Bowl and conference championship games also gave them the vision of what a good, disruptive pass rush can do for a defense, and they have that same vision for the team. In other words, pass rush will be a massive priority for the team this offseason, but the most important part is finding the right talent - something that's far harder and less certain to do. That's why owner Jim Irsay kept Pagano and Grigson around, however, as he's convinced those two can lead the Colts where they want to go - and if that's going to happen, that will probably mean finding those pass rushers.