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Film Room: Colts Pass Rush dominating early

The Colts pass rush has been dominating early in the season

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Los Angeles Chargers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

General Manager Chris Ballard made it an emphasis this off-season to add to the defensive line and to the pass rush overall. He added aging star Justin Houston in free agency and defensive end Ben Banogu in the second round of the NFL Draft. Along with those key additions, the expected development of young edge rusher Kemoko Turay and breakout player Denico Autry were anticipated to play a big role early in 2019.

In today’s film room, we will be looking at the play of the defensive line two games into this 2019 season. The group has eight sacks through two games and has looked pretty dominant at certain times. Let’s jump into the film and see who the stars have been in the early stages of this season.

Top Rushers

Justin Houston

Chris Ballard’s biggest free agent signing has been excellent so far this season. He has one sack, two quarterback hits, and seven hurries according to Pro Football Focus. He has moved across the defensive line from starting left end in base packages to moving inside to defensive tackle on clear passing situations. His power and speed has been very tough to handle for both tackles and guards as a result.

In this first clip, he showcases his speed and power. The Chargers have a unique play call here that results in the right tackle chipping Houston then having the right guard pull out and be the primary blocker on him. He fights through the initial chip then bends around the block of the right guard. He turns the corner well while not allowing the guard to get inside position on him. He sheds the block around the corner and gets to Phillip Rivers for the sack. His power and bend around the corner are on display here.

Justin Houston’s go-to move is converting speed to power in a bull rush. Here you can see that on full display. He explodes out of his stance and right tackle Jack Conklin even buckles down in preparation for the bull rush. Conklin however is late getting his hands up and Houston uses that mistake to his advantage. He overwhelms Conklin with his strength and knocks the right tackle to the ground. Houston is able to get to Marcus Mariota just as he releases the ball, nearly resulting in a sack.

The Colts have been very unique in their play design on third down pass rush situations. Rather than having Houston line up on the end, they have opted to move the veteran inside against offensive guards in their “Green” package. His speed and quickness combined with his outstanding strength are too much for offensive guards to handle. Here, Houston is able to contain his gap while also tossing his guard aside to get the QB hit. He nearly is able to get the sack on this play. Houston overall has been an absolute star in this young season.

Kemoko Turay

The star of the first week, Kemoko Turay missed week two against the Tennessee Titans. Still, it is hard to overlook how good he was in week one against the Los Angeles Chargers. In just 23 snaps in week one, Turay had one sack, one QB hit, two hurries, and a forced fumble (as well as having another sack and forced fumble negated by a penalty). He was unblockable in week one as the once raw athlete looked like a complete speed rusher. He showcased his outstanding bend while also showing some nuance and technique on the outside.

This first clip was negated due to an offsides but it shows so much talent in one play. Turay explodes off the line and quickly makes up ground on the offensive tackle before he can get into his kick-step. Turay then does a great job of swatting the hands of the tackle and gaining separation. After he swats the tackle’s hands, look at the burst and explosion around the edge. He is able to get into a second gear and dip around the corner to get to the quarterback. He finishes the play by also forcing a fumble in a showcase of outstanding skill and athleticism.

Similar start to this next play but Turay does show more nuance and technique here. He starts off again by engaging the tackle quickly out of his stance. He initiates a bull rush by extending his left arm on the tackle. After gaining some depth into the pocket, Turay then swats the hands of the tackle and gains his separation. After gaining the separation, he is able to bend the corner, locate the ball, and force the fumble. The level of nuance and the ability to counter initial moves that he has shown thus far in 2019 is outstanding. He is starting to look like the player the Colts drafted him to be in 2018. If he continues this play, and gets healthy, he could have a breakout year this season.

Denico Autry

After a poor week one showing, Denico Autry bounced back in a big way against the Tennessee Titans. In just two games, he already has accounted for three sacks, two hurries, and a forced fumble according to Pro Football Focus. He struggled in week one getting off blocks but he dominated the matchup in week two against a much better guard in Roger Saffold. Hopefully he can build off this strong showing going forward in this season.

This first clip shows a move that Autry used so much last season. He stands up out of his stance and puts a quick hesitation on the opposing guard. He Then comes back with a powerful club move before dipping around inside to gain separation. He is able to get past the guard with this powerful move and get to Mariota in the backfield. Mariota tries to escape the pocket but Autry is able to track him down and force the fumble on the sack.

On his second sack of the day, Autry is able to rag doll a very good guard in Roger Saffold. Saffold does a good job of steadying himself against Autry’s initial rush and holds strong against the initial hit. Autry however comes back with a violent long arm club that completely knocks Saffold off balance. This allows Autry to get the separation he needs to get his second sack of the game. He showcased great power and quickness in this game and it was an excellent performance to build off of going forward.

Other Notable Rushers

Al-Quadin Muhammad

After a productive 2018 season primarily served as a run defender, Al-Quadin Muhammad has started 2019 off fairly well. He looked good in week one against the Chargers as he notched one sack and one hurry in the game but was held off the stat sheet in the pass rush department in week two against the Titans. Still though, for a player who didn’t get his first sack until the playoffs last year, this is a promising start.

Muhammad is fairly nuanced for a player who is mostly a run defender. Here he does a great job of extending his arm to keep separation from the left tackle. He then builds off of that move by dipping around the edge and shielding off the tackles arms from getting good position. He bends the edge well and is able to get to Rivers quickly before he can release the ball for the sack.

Ben Banogu

Banogu hasn’t had the start to 2019 that we thought he would but he is still a rookie adjusting to the NFL. In only 34 snaps played on the season, he has logged one sack and one QB hit in two games according to Pro Football Focus. He has showcased some great quickness and speed in these first two games but he will need to build off his initial moves going forward to get more pressure on the QB.

Banogu’s first sack of the season is an example of great scheme creating a free rush. Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus lines up both Darius Leonard and Quincy Wilson over the center to appear as though the team is blitzing. Wilson and Leonard back up off the line as the ball is snapped but the right tackle blocks down on the play as he anticipated the blitz. This allows Banogu to get into the backfield unblocked for the sack. Banogu shows great quickness on this sack but going forward he is going to have to win more one on one blocks to be more effective as a pass rusher.

Final Thoughts

The Colts’ defensive line has looked very good so far in 2019. With Jabaal Sheard being out these first two games and Kemoko Turay missing week two, it is a very promising sign that this group is playing so well early in the year. As those two return, the pass rush could get even better overall.

The two offensive lines that they have faced are not great but the Colts don’t really have their first test in terms of good offensive line play until week eight against the Steelers. I fully expect this defensive line to continue their dominance going forward as they face off against the injured Falcons offensive line this weekend.