It’s been several years since the Colts had a star on defense. Their last true star on the defensive side of the ball was Robert Mathis in the early years of the Luck era. Sunday’s game might have been the coming out party for the Colts’ new defensive star: linebacker Darius Leonard.
Leonard’s 18 tackle, 1 sack and 1 forced fumble performance led the way for what was a very impressive performance from the Colts defense that didn’t allow 1 touchdown and completely shut down the Redskins running game. The Colts defense didn’t allow a touchdown for the first time since 2016 and for only the second time since 2014. To do it on the road was even more impressive.
Leonard was the player of the game for the Colts today, stepping up in several spots. The 2018 second round pick has been impressive for most of training camp and preseason, displaying very good instincts and closing speed. While Leonard played at an FCS school (a level below FBS where most draft picks are chosen from), his game film was too good to ignore. He has very high-end physical traits and was very athletic for his size.
Leonard delivered a huge hit in the 2nd quarter that was initially ruled a fumble but overturned. The tackle showed that he can pack a punch and knock the ball loose without having to strip it. He has very good strength that was on display throughout the game.
At the end of the 3rd quarter, Leonard made a very impressive play, coming down hard, engaging a block, shredding it off and closing a hole that the running back was about to exploit. It’s these little things that you don’t often see from linebackers because they haven’t developed those traits this early in their careers. While this play will be completely ignored by anyone (because it was just a one yard run), I found Leonard did a great job of preventing a 1 yard run from being a 5+ yard run. It’s those plays that add up and win football games.
Even this simple tackle is impressive. DL comes down hard to engage a block and shreds it off to close Thompson’s hole. Only a one yard run. pic.twitter.com/vq1P8xF8HS— Andrew Aziz (@AndrewAzizSB) September 17, 2018
Leonard had a very impressive play early in the 4th quarter, registering a huge 11 yard sack on Alex Smith. On the play, he shows his fantastic closing speed and delivers a hard hit to Smith. He timed the blitz well, waiting for the right tackle to completely engage with his man to let the hole open up. He reads it well and closes in hard. Smith never had a chance. This was on 2nd down and it killed the Redskins’ drive that was already 9 plays long and deep into Colts territory. It forced the Redskins to make a long field goal.
Leonard’s best play came in the 4th quarter, when the Redskins were driving deep in the Colts’ territory and he forced a fumble on Jordan Reed’s catch. To get his hand in the right spot in that situation shows how skillful he is (and a bit lucky too). It ended the Redskins’ comeback attempt and it secured the Colts’ victory. He deserved a game ball for this play alone. He had 5 tackles just on this drive.
The Colts haven’t had a productive off-ball linebacker since Jerrell Freeman or even Gary Brackett. Leonard provides hope that he is the new boss on the Colts’ defense and that he can lead the way to more superb defensive performances. If he plays anything like this throughout the season, he’ll get some Defensive Player of the Year award attention.
Andrew Luck had 179 passing yards in Sunday’s victory, which is the lowest of his entire career in a victory. This demonstrates just how much this was an overall team win for the Colts and how important it is to pick up the slacks if one of the star players isn’t at 100%. A strong Colts defense will be needed if the Colts expect to fight for a playoff spot. Leonard needs to lead the way moving forward, and based on today’s performance, he showed that he can be the star this Colts defense needed.