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Colts Pass Rush Given Very Average Expectations Entering 2018

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NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Indianapolis Colts Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

One of two critical areas of need for the Indianapolis Colts over the past several years has been beefing up the offensive line, and finding the ability to generate a more effective, consistent pass rush. This hasn’t been easy as lineman haven’t panned out, and the Colts are more consistent being at the bottom of the league in sacks than showing any real upward trajectory.

This upcoming season the Colts have an interesting group of front-seven players who may be able to turn that around. Denico Autry is very interesting as a piece to create pressure from multiple spots along the line, Jabaal Sheard is considered to be the Colts most capable returner from a year ago and the Colts’ rookies along the line — Tyquan Lewis and Kemoko Turay — are bringing in a lot of intrigue as well.

Last week we saw that PFF placed the Colts offensive line at No. 17 among the league’s protectors, and this week we’ve learned their expectations for the Colts pass rushers for the 2018 season. Pro Football Focus often has some interesting grades, in that most wonder how that grade fits that player. On the other hand, their process always seems to at least be a solid argument for one side or the other.

PFF has the Colts sitting at 21st for the 2018 season, and are really hammering home the Sheard angle as are most who look at the team.

“..the Colts have a top pass-rusher in Sheard, but not a lot outside of that. Sheard racked up five sacks, eight hits and 54 hurries in 2017, making up 28 percent of the Colts total pressures last season.”

It’s fair. Sheard is being thrust back into a scheme that he came into the league playing. But, I think to overlook the rest of the group would be a real mistake for anyone analyzing this front seven. They don’t look real impressive on paper, but most of them are either capable veterans who’ve shown they can make an impact, young players looking to make a name for themselves with a new GM from the one that drafted them, or they’re high-ceiling rookies with a ton of athleticism.

“Two rookies who could contribute early for the Colts are former Rutgers edge Kemoko Turay, who produced 34 total pressures in his final season in college, and former Ohio State standout Tyquan Lewis, who had 38 total pressures in his final season as a Buckeye. The Colts need those two second-round draft picks to hit the ground running.”

PFF likes the rookies, and to give them credit, Lewis and Turay are absolutely vital to an emerging pass rush for this roster. However, Tarell Basham will be as, or more critical to that success as he’ll be likely starting opposite Sheard and expected to ball out as he climbs back into a 4-man front. Basham has stated that, before last season, a 4-3 base scheme is all he’s ever known. If we’re looking solely at pressure coming off the edge, how could there be a more important piece for this Colts defense?

Sitting at 21st, though, is a pretty nice vote of confidence when putting everything into context. The Colts were second-worst only to a truly pathetic pass rush in Tampa Bay (22) last season with 25 total sacks, and need a major uptick in getting quarterbacks to the ground as well as forcing them into poor decisions.

Something else of note, is that the Colts — at No. 21 — are ranked in the basement of the AFC South. The Jacksonville Jaguars are sitting at No. 2, the Houston Texans at No. 5 and the Tennessee Titans have been placed at No. 12. This may present a problem for the Colts going forward if those rivals can live up to those expectations.

The Colts offense will have to be that much better, and the Colts defense will be forced to stand out against offense’s that have given them fits recently. 21 isn’t great, but it’s a long way off from bottom-5 expectations from the recent past.