It is no secret that the Colts pass rush was abhorrent last season, even despite having talented players like DeForest Buckner, Kwity Paye, and Grover Stewart, the front just never managed to get consistent pressure going, and there were several times against top quarterbacks (Lamar Jackson, Tom Brady) that the pass rush just seemed to disappear. This inability to pressure and disrupt opposing passing games meant that the Colts’ defense as a whole never managed to truly take the next step, and allowed several big comebacks when it was obvious the opponent was in passing situations. This is a story that repeated itself several times over the past couple seasons, the pass rush coming alive against mediocre opposition before collapsing against top notch quarterbacks. In fact, the last time I can remember the Colts defensive line harassing an elite quarterback is Patrick Mahomes in the 2019 NFL season, and even that performance has to be taken with a grain of salt because Mahomes was injured during the course of the game and was clearly not at full strength.
We can sit here and blame former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, former defensive line coach Brian Baker, injuries to Paye, Buckner, and Tyquan Lewis, the lack of creative blitzes, or failing to properly develop the talent at the position, but it is pointless to do so now after the changes made this offseason to address this. Gus Bradley is replacing Matt Eberflus as defensive coordinator, and Brian Baker is now gone. Hopefully the new coaches bring some much needed fresh air to the position.
With pass rush being the most glaring need the Colts’ defense had, adding a player of Yannick Ngakoue’s pedigree is the most important move Ballard made this offseason. Ngakoue is just 27-years old, and had at least 8 sacks in all his six NFL seasons so far. Last year, no Colts’ edge rusher got more than that. Ngakoue also has experience with new defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, having played with him in Las Vegas last season, so his familiarity with the scheme will certainly help him adapt more easily to his new team.
No Colts’ pass rusher last season got close to the level of production that Ngakoue brings while rushing the passer. Kemoko Turay was very productive in limited snaps, but he just never managed to put it all together. Tyquan Lewis and Dayo Odeyingbo are two versatile pieces that are good for rotational spots as of right now (though Dayo could take a big step next season), AQM was just not productive, and Kwity Paye put together some solid stretches last season. Ngakoue will also benefit from Buckner’s presence on the inside drawing plenty of attention out of his way, as we also have to keep in mind that Ngakoue was not the focal point of the Raiders’ pass rush led by DPOY candidate Maxx Crosby.
Pass rush is king in today’s NFL. Managing to pressure opposing quarterbacks consistently, and getting the key stops in crunch time is the key to winning those close games against tough teams, and the Colts will face some elite quarterbacks next season: Patrick Mahomes, Justin Herbert, Russell Wilson... to name a few. With the addition of Matt Ryan at quarterback, it is clear that the Colts intend to contend this next few seasons, so taking the necessary measures to sort out the defensive issues preventing the unit from reaching truly elite levels was the next logical step. Adding a pass rusher like Yannick Ngakoue was the perfect move at the perfect time.