After Chris Ballard took over for Ryan Grigson as general manager of the Indianapolis Colts, he set out to significantly overhaul one of the league’s oldest and worst defenses. While statistically it might appear that Ballard has failed, the reality is that this defense has more talent on the defensive line, at outside linebacker, and in the secondary than it did a season ago — and it isn’t close. It has taken the team some time to put things together, and their hopes to compete this season are all but gone, but the unit has put up some strong defensive performances in the last few weeks that might indicate that there are reasons to be confident in the future.
One of the stronger units that Ballard was inheriting, or so it was thought, was a defensive line with some pieces that showed promise. Henry Anderson had a stellar rookie season that ended prematurely with a torn ACL and he was likely to return to hold down the 3-tech or 5-tech spot. Kendall Langford was returning from injury and there were hopes that he might return to same level of play he brought to the team in 2015. There was a need to upgrade at the nose tackle position with undersized David Parry and rotational players Zach Kerr and T.Y. McGill as the only options that made sense. Recent draft pick Hassan Ridgeway also had the chance to move around on the line and there were hopes that he could develop into a starter.
Rather than go that route, Ballard purged the roster of Langford, Kerr, McGill, and Parry. He brought in Johnathan Hankins, Al Woods, and Margus Hunt to replace them. There is no doubt at this point in the season that these moves were all positive. Hankins and Woods have played a key role in revitalizing a horrible Colts rush defense. Anderson found his way back to playing dominant football just in time to suffer a neck injury that ended his season. Which leaves Margus Hunt.
Prior to the start of the season, Hunt was viewed by many as a either a training camp body or likely a bottom of the roster player who could be released after Indianapolis made waiver claims following final cuts. None of that happened.
Instead, Hunt has been played nearly 300 snaps through 10 games for the Colts. He has been a part of the defense in sub-packages and when the unit is looking for a little extra pass rush help. He has accumulated 1 sack and 7 quarterback hits. His tackle numbers are nothing to get excited about, with only 9 total tackles, but his role in the defense isn’t one that makes him likely to make many tackles either.
For comparison, Anderson was playing some of the best football of his career in the last three weeks of his season. He was steady since Week 1. He was on the field as much as any defensive lineman and even though he missed last week’s game, he accumulated 380 defensive snaps to Hunt’s 294. He has 7 quarterback hits and 2 sacks.
Another key ability that Hunt brings to the team is blocking field goals and extra points. These are rare but important plays in the NFL that can keep points off of the board. Both Anderson and Hunt have blocked kicks, with Anderson blocking a field goal and Hunt an extra point.
While it is presumed that the comparisons between Anderson and Hunt stop at pressuring the quarterback and blocking kicks, the loss of Anderson will force Hunt into playing a bigger role in the last six games of the Colts season. This will be the most featured role he has played in his NFL career. He already passed the first test against the Pittsburgh Steelers by being a part of a defensive effort that held Le’Veon Bell to 80 yards rushing.
No one is talking about Margus Hunt in NFL circles, but don’t sleep on him. He is playing the best football of his career and has a chance to make a big impact to close out the season.