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Colts’ Underperforming Positions: Edge Rusher

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

As we all know by now, the Colts’ season was a massive disappointment. After looking like a red-hot team no opponent would want to face in the playoffs, Indy collapsed and lost their last two games, eventually missing the chance to play for the Super Bowl.

There is certainly plenty of blame to go around, but instead of focusing on just the past two games and everything that went wrong there, I am going to try and deeply analyze the positions that consistently cost the Colts’ games this year, starting with edge rusher,

The Rams have Von Miller, the Bengals have Trey Hendrickson, the Raiders have Maxx Crosby... seemingly every single playoff team had a pass-rusher they could count on to close out games. A number I really like is that of the top 20 pass-rushers (PRP from PFF), 15 made the playoffs. The formula here is rather simple, a proper edge rusher is key for winning games. I would even argue that edge rusher is the most important position in the NFL other than quarterback.

Ballard has tremendously failed to address this key position. Tyquan Lewis, Ben Banogu, Tarrell Basham, Kemoko Turay, and the most recent draftees Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo. Paye and Dayo have shown a lot of promise, and the jury is still out on them, but as for the other 4, they have simply not been up to the task.

This misses in the draft, coupled with Ballard’s approach in free-agency, meant that a non-productive player like Al-Quadin Muhammad ended up receiving the majority of the snaps last year, and the results were not good.

While I really don’t like blaming a single player for the Colts lack of a consistent pass-rush, I just cannot wrap my head around how a team with hopes of making the playoffs can look at the past production from AQM and say ‘‘Okay, this is a guy that I want getting >75% of the snaps’’. And it’s not like AQM was forced into the starting lineup because of injuries, as Muhammad was the starting edge rusher since training camp. Some of the blame should also go to former defensive line coach Brian Baker, who failed to properly develop Ben Banogu and Kemoko Turay, and for continuing to play AQM even though his production was non-existent.

AQM vs. edge rushers

/////////////////////// 2021 2020 2019
/////////////////////// 2021 2020 2019
Run Stop % 50th / 60 72nd / 125 67th / 118
P.R.P 48th / 57 44th / 46 91st / 116

What the chart says, is how AQM ranks among edge rushers that received similar snap shares. Run stop % measures the percentage of the snaps the player got a run stop, and P.R.P measures the win rate of a pass rusher relative to his snaps played. The numbers paint the picture very well, Muhammad is just not productive, and it’s not like this was a down season for him, he has never been productive. As a rotational player AQM is not that bad, but as a starter getting the majority of the snaps, thank you but no thank you.

I have been one of AQM’s biggest critics this year, but truth is he did have some nice games, and he certainly made his fair share of plays, it’s just that he is not consistent enough on a snap-to-snap basis for him to start. He gets a sack on one play, and then just disappears the rest of the game.

Ballard surely knows that he needs to give new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley some better weapons for him to use, and that pass-rush is king in today’s NFL. The Colts desperately need an edge rusher they can rely to close out games, a guy that opposing offensive linemen fear and have to worry about.