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Indianapolis Colts Showing Signs of Developing Pass Rush in Preseason

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Indianapolis Colts v Tennessee Titans Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

While the Indianapolis Colts biggest concern entering the season is the recovery of Andrew Luck’s throwing shoulder, the second biggest concern has to be the ability of the defense to generate a pass rush. It has been a few years since Indianapolis was able to generate consistent pressure and that has made it extremely difficult on the secondary.

While there have been a few sacks in the preseason from a handful of players that might generate a bit of hope, the team has not been filling up the stat sheet. Rookie Tarrell Basham hasn’t lit the world on fire, though that isn’t a huge surprise, and free agent pickup Jabaal Sheard has yet to look like the team’s number one pass rush option.

However, the team has made steady progress toward the goal in generating quarterback hurries, pressures, and near sacks. They’ve also been effective enough to force offensive linemen to hold to keep their quarterback clean — whether the officials throw the flag or not.

The following film will highlights plays against the Steelers that were near-sacks or nearly forced fumbles. With a bit more refinement, these become big plays that will impact the outcome of football games and allow the Colts secondary to play the ball more aggressively in the air.

The first three clips in this breakdown feature outside linebacker Akeem Ayers. Through the first three games of the preseason, Ayers has arguably been the most consistent at getting into the backfield and forcing the quarterback to move off of his spot.

On this play Ayers simply uses speed and bend to get around the edge and trip up the quarterback. While the ball is thrown away at the last second, this is a sack nine times out of ten and was the result of a one-on-one win.

Granted, this is late in the fourth quarter against a depth lineman but it’s an example of Ayers creating pressure.

Early in the game, John Simon came around the edge and forced a fumble by knocking the ball out of Ben Roethlisberger’s hands. This was the third turnover that John Simon played a key role in creating in three preseason games. What might have gone unnoticed is that Ayers bull rushed his way through the left tackle in the first quarter and was inches away from picking Ben’s pocket again.

The result of this play is a completed pass and in terms of impact on the outcome of the game, that is all that matters. Still, Ayers is matched up against the Steelers starting left tackle and forces him all the way back into Roethlisberger. If he gets one step deeper, he bats down the ball and give the Colts the opportunity for another takeaway.

Here, Ayers beats the same right tackle as he did in the first video above. Though it goes uncalled, this was a clear hold. Ayers gets completely past the tackle and is grabbed from behind to keep the quarterback clean.

One might believe that these edge rushers have been working with Robert Mathis all summer. On this play, Sheard beats the tackle and gets around the edge. As soon as he gets to the quarterback he swipes at the ball, just missing. If Landry Jones doesn’t step up at the last minute he likely loses the football.

Close doesn’t count but it is at least encouraging that the edge rushers are getting the edge, turning the corner, generating pressure, and coming dangerously close to creating turnovers.

Not to be outdone, Tarrell Basham does his own impression of Robert Mathis. He gets outside of the tackle and forces his way through to the quarterback. He eyes the throwing shoulder of the quarterback and swats at the ball. This is another narrow miss but it’s clear this technique is getting drilled into the Colts edge rushers.

Although the defensive line didn’t have a very productive day, veteran defensive tackle David Parry broke through the line on this play for what was a sure sack. He was blatantly held and even the Steelers announcers called the penalty on their broadcast but the officials called hands to the face elsewhere on the Colts defense. Let’s hope the officials in the regular season don’t miss this kind of thing.

Parry got pressure up the middle and would have had a sack without the hold. While it would be better to see Ayers and Parry generating pressure against the Pittsburgh first team, it is good to see multiple players for the Colts defense making it difficult for the quarterback.

There is no doubt that the Indianapolis Colts still have a lot of work to do if they hope to develop a productive pass rush. Nearly batting down passes and almost getting sacks is the same as allowing completions and first downs when all is said and done. However, it goes without saying that the Colts have desperately lacked the ability to regularly pressure or hurry opposing quarterbacks in the regular season. Some of the signs that players are showing on the defense in the preseason suggest that there will be improvement in that area in 2017.