The Indianapolis Colts beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 33-13 at home to move to 6-4 on the year and in first place of the AFC South. While this was a great team win overall, I want to take the time to highlight a silent contributor to this Colts’ team since he became a starter. That player is defensive tackle Grover Stewart.
The towering defensive tackle took over as a starter for the struggling Margus Hunt in week 5 and has been a major boost to the team since that time. For example, the first four weeks of the year with Stewart as a reserve player, the team allowed 132 rushing yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry. Since starting Stewart (and getting Jabaal Sheard back from injury), the team is allowing just 73 yards per game and 3.4 yards per carry. He is also having a career year himself as he already has a career-high in tackles, tackles for a loss, and sacks just 10 games into the year.
So why has the defense been so much better with Stewart as a starter? Obviously, he hasn’t been the only factor but he has been one of the team’s most effective players on the interior since becoming a starter in week 5. In today’s film room, we will see exactly why he has been so good for this team in 2019.
Stewart is a behemoth of a man with insane strength at the point of attack. Standing at 6’4” 330 pounds, he is incredibly tough for any interior offensive lineman to handle one on one. On this rep, the left guard is tasked with handling Stewart on the sweep play. Stewart gets a good initial push and drives the guard into the backfield. He then moves down the line while holding the guard away from his body with his great reach. As he directs the guard into the path of the running back, he quickly flashes out one arm and stops the back in his tracks for the tackle. I would like to see him improve upon stacking and shedding the guard rather than staying engaged and then making the tackle but this is an excellent play on the interior.
While he isn’t known for his pass-rushing ability by any means and even comes out of the game in most passing situations, this is an impressive rush by the young defensive tackle here. He starts off with a deadly club move with his left hand while bull-rushing with his right arm. This completely shocks the right guard who is knocked off balance from the snap as a result. Stewart uses this advantage in leverage to drive the guard deep into the pocket before quickly shedding him for the sack. While he hasn’t had too many good pass rushes this year, this is an excellent all-around play by the third year lineman.
Another stretch play going away from Stewart that he is able to make a good play on. The left guard attempts to pick him up on the backside but Stewart is too strong and gets a good initial drive on the play. He drives the guard back into the backfield, causing the lineman to trip on the feet of Denico Autry. Stewart is then able to locate the ball carrier now that he is unblocked and track him down for the tackle. He benefitted a bit from the guard tripping on this play but Stewart had a nice initial push and did a good job of tracking the runner down in the hole for the tackle.
One of the most important jobs for a defensive tackle, if not the most important, is to eat up space and double teams in order to keep the linebackers clean to make a play. On this next play, Stewart does that perfectly. The left guard and the center double him up on the interior here and get no push whatsoever on him. You can clearly see both players driving their legs in an effort to move him but to no avail. This is a great play as their inability to move Stewart on the interior frees up linebackers Bobby Okereke to hit the runner in the hole and Anthony Walker to clean up the play right after. This very small gain on the play is largely due to the effort on the interior by Stewart in eating up a big double team.
While he has shown the ability to eat up double teams, he has also shown the ability to beat them. While he is a huge defensive lineman, Stewart is actually surprisingly nimble as he measured with good explosion and quickness scores at the combine for a player his size at his Pro Day three years ago. Combine that with his elite strength and he is hard to even block with two offensive linemen. Here he quickly rips through the double team and forces the run outside where he has help from the linebackers. Although the linebackers struggle to bring the running back down for a loss on this play, this is still a phenomenal play overall by Stewart to blow up the original run.
The Steelers struggled all game to move this gigantic defensive tackle in this matchup. Here he is yet again facing a double team from the left guard and center but it has little effect on him. Stewart is able to engage the double team and stonewall the line at the point of attack. He directs the double team block to the hole and creates traffic where the running back is trying to break through. Just as the runner hits the hole, Stewart reaches out (while still engaging the double team with his other arm) and brings the back down for a small gain. Elite strength and size have made Stewart a great asset for the Colts’ rush defense this season.
Stewart absolutely dominated all game against the Steelers. Here he gets yet another great initial push where he drives the guard deep into the backfield. He completely controls this block as he is moving the guard where he wants him to go in order to create traffic for the running back. Just as the back approaches the hole, Stewart reaches out and makes the tackle for a short gain. Almost everything is great on this play except for when he disengages the block. Going forward, he has to learn to stack and shed the block a bit sooner rather than just hanging on the block until the runner approaches and then disengaging for the tackle. That is the next step he needs to take to truly become a difference-maker for this team.
He has done a good job this season of engaging blockers, directing them where he wants, and grabbing the runner as they run by for the tackle. The next step for his though is stacking those blocks, disengaging them in the hole, and then making the tackle for a loss rather than a couple of yards down the field. Here is an example that kind of shows what I’m talking about. He quickly wins this play with strong hands that stands up the right guard on the inside run. Rather than waiting for the back in the hole though, he aggressively attacks while still maintaining his gap discipline. He dips under the guard as the back approaches and makes the big tackle for a loss on the play. Once he begins stacking and shedding blocks on a more regular basis rather than just waiting for the runner, he will be a true asset for this defense.
The last clip is another good one as he yet again just eats up a double team on the interior with ease. The play design is for the center and left guard to block down on Stewart before the center then climbs to the second level and blocks the linebacker. Stewart, however, prevents this by driving the double team back and forcing the center to stay locked on the interior. This allows Darius Leonard to stay clean on the play and fill the initial hole on the play. This forces the running back to drift more to the outside to find a lane, where Stewart is waiting for the tackle. Just another excellent play by the young defensive tackle.
Grover Stewart is finally breaking out for the Colts and it has been great to see over these past few weeks. With the departure of Al Woods and the regression of Margus Hunt this year, Stewart finally got the opportunity he needed to show how good he really is. Due to his strong play on the interior and the return of Jabaal Sheard, the Colts’ run defense has gone from absolutely terrible to one of the best in the league.
There are still areas to improve on for him, however. He needs to stack and shed blocks, especially one on one blocks, much better in the hole and needs to develop a bit more as a pass rusher but all signs are pointing up with this young defender. Hopefully, he can continue to develop and improve as the year progresses and become yet another diamond in the rough to add to Chris Ballard’s repertoire as a GM.