The Indianapolis Colts have made this season quite interesting, winning their last four to pull into a tie for the final wildcard spot. The offense is clicking on all cylinders and the defense has made key plays to get big wins. Players such as Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore, and even Margus Hunt— earlier in the season at least— have led the way on this defense. One player who everyone seems to have forgotten about is Jabaal Sheard.
Sheard was an absolute star last season for the Colts, in spite of his sack numbers. In 2017, Sheard only managed 5.5 sacks — a number that he has already hit this season— but he was top five in the NFL in run stops for edge defenders and ninth in total pressures. Despite the sack numbers, his all around edge play was pretty stellar.
This year though, there seems to be less talk about Sheard— likely due to the deserved hype of Leonard on defense. Sheard has been a very important piece in a defense that has vastly improved from a year ago. The Colts are a top ten defense against the run this season, allowing only 3.9 yards per rush. The Colts are also in the top half of the league in sacks this season with 26 on the year. Sheard is a big part of both those statistics.
In this film room, I will show you all that despite not hearing his name as much this season, Sheard is still the same dominant player that he was last year. Let’s jump into the film so you can see what I’m talking about.
Sheard is one of the top run defenders in all of football. He excels at reading offenses and shooting gaps to stop runners in the backfield. When blocked one-on-one, Sheard is typically too quick for linemen as he is able to blow by them for the stop. He is very disciplined but when he is left unblocked or he sees an opening, he won’t hesitate to exploit it. He has 10 tackles for a loss this season which is already a career high.
In this first clip, Sheard is initially lined up as the end in base defense. He then moves inside with the tight end motioning across the line of scrimmage, making a perceived mismatch with a bigger guard against a smaller end player. Sheard is way too quick off of the line for guard Josh Kline and beats him to the spot. Sheard expertly swipes away Kline’s hands and gets free from the block. He is then able to make a tackle in open space against a pretty strong runner in Derrick Henry.
The next clip is another great overall play by Sheard. The Redskins are running a sweep to Sheard’s side with the tight end coming to down block him out of the play. Sheard’s initial assignment appears to be to shoot inside, as his first step is more towards the center. He is able to adjust when he sees the sweep and effortlessly tosses tight end Jeremy Sprinkle aside. He shoots through the pulling lineman and makes the play on Adrian Peterson in the backfield. This is a great, disruptive play from the veteran.
Our next clip shows Sheard fighting through traffic to get the stop. He gets doubled by the right tackle and tight end on a dive up the middle. Sheard is able to toss the tackle aside and fight inside through tight end Charles Clay’s block. He loses his balance but a great job of latching onto the running back and holding on for the tackle for a loss.
Sheard is nearly unblockable one-on-one, especially by average offensive linemen. His quickness and burst are really hard to counter and he isn’t afraid to bull rush to keep the line off balance and drive his opponent into the quarterback’s lap. He is very good on the edge one-on-one but excels against guards. His combination of hand usage and speed are too much for bigger guards.
On this play, Sheard disrespects Titan’s center Ben Jones. He stunts inside and gets a one-on-one look with the center. Before engaging, Sheard is able to swat away his hands and blow past him for the sack. Jones ends up on the ground after barely laying a hand on Sheard. Just a crazy athletic play to make a starting center look foolish.
Our next clips highlights Sheard taking advantage of guard Josh Kline— who is actually having a pretty solid season. Sheard starts with excellent burst which allows him to get to the guard before he is fully set. He then swipes away Kline’s hands and drives up field toward the quarterback. Kline is left grabbing for air and dives at Sheard as he blows by.
The following clip is probably the most impressive, despite not resulting in a sack. While we find that Sheard struggles against top tackles, he gets the best of Morgan Moses on this play. He uses his speed and burst to get inside of Moses, who has no help. Although Moses slows him down a bit, Sheard won at the snap with his quickness. He got into the face of Alex Smith to force the incompletion.
The Colts’ defensive scheme relies heavily on gap shooting defensive linemen. They ask their players to do a lot of work through twists and stunts, and to contain the run on their way up field. Sheard is excellent in this area. He has the quickness and ability to gain leverage to be disruptive when firing through gaps.
Even on passing plays, Sheard can be disruptive shooting gaps. In this clip, Sheard is performing an inside stunt with defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway. The Redskins fail to properly communicate. As a result, Moses is left alone to keep up with Sheard, who is stunting inside. Sheard is able to get up field before Moses can wrestle control of the block, and he ends up with a big sack.
This next rep is particularly impressive. The Eagles are performing an inside trap where the right guard pulls to block the left end and the rest of the line blocks down. Sheard notices the concept and shoots through the gap the right guard has vacated. He beats All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson to the spot and make the big tackle for a loss. When Sheard is firing through gaps and not focused on contain, he can run past any lineman in this league.
The final clip may not look like a positive to most people, but this is a perfectly executed stunt as All-Pro Center Jason Kelce gets too caught up with the defensive tackle to notice Sheard. Sheard flies past Kelce as he grabs for air and has a free shot at the sack on Carson Wentz. You would like to see Sheard finish this play but to have the speed and quickness to get in that situation is impressive. He also forces Wentz to leave the pocket, which is a win.
Consistency vs Top Tackles
Sheard was one of the better edge players in football last season. So, naturally, I expected him to take the next step into stardom this year with a new scheme that supports his abilities. While he has played very well, he hasn’t really taken a big step forward. To be considered one of the better edge players in football, Sheard needs more consistency against top tackles. He struggles to make as many plays when he is in these situations.
This first clip is against Morgan Moses. I know that Sheard showed some nice inside moves against Moses on stunts but he was relatively quiet in one-on-one attempts on the edge. I don’t expect him to dominate the entire game but I’d like to see more consistency against these players. This is the type of rep that happened too frequently against the Redskins.
Our next clip shows Sheard against Lane Johnson again. This is in a two minute drill towards the end of the half. Sheard should be pinning his ears back and attacking but he gets washed out easily by Johnson. I don’t need him dominating every good tackle in football, but to take the next step in his career, he needs to perform better against top competition.
This is a tad nit picky but I it bears addressing. There are too many plays where Sheard ends up on the ground or completely out of the play by little things. I don’t know if it is a strength or balance issue, or reflects inconsistent effort but it stands out. In the following clip, Sheard gets tossed aside by Moses. In the second clip he is pushed around by tight end in Charles Clay. This isn’t always prevalent but these plays litter Sheard’s film and need to go away.
Jabaal Sheard is a very important piece on a young, improving defense. He is a stout run defender and excels often wins against one-on-one blocks or by shooting gaps. He has a few areas that need work his body of work tells me that he is a well above average defensive end in this league.
Sheard deserves more credit and recognition for his play. Guys like Kenny Moore, Darius Leonard, and Anthony Walker have been excellent surprises but Sheard’s has continued his steady play from a year ago and he is definitely one of the better defenders on this team. I don’t know what his role will be moving forward but he is currently a valuable piece on a team looking to make the playoffs.
I’d like to conclude this article by giving a little bit of thanks our readers. I have been writing/ podcasting about football for years and I have never encountered a fan base so excited and passionate as the one on Stampede Blue.
I love writing these Film Room pieces. Seeing the positive feedback in the comment sections truly make it worth while. So, thank you for your continued support. I hope you enjoyed Thanksgiving with friends and family and look forward to rooting for the Colts to crush the Dolphins this Sunday. Go Colts!