*INDIANAPOLIS — *While the Indianapolis Colts’ defense faced its issues throughout the 2017 season, its defensive line, for the most part, remained sturdy and, sometimes, downright stingy — especially against the run.
The prime example came in Week 12, when the Tennessee Titans visited Lucas OIl Stadium. Controlling the line of scrimmage, the Colts’ defense held the potent Titans’ rushing attack to just nine net rushing yards in the first half of play. It was the lowest total for Tennessee in 2017, and the lowest first-half total for a Colts opponent dating back to Oct. 7, 2007, when they held the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to six net rushing yards in the first two quarters.
There was more give during the second half of that Titans game, however, as Tennessee gained 83 yards on the ground in the final two quarters, including a one-yard touchdown run by DeMarco Murray that proved to be the deciding score with about six minutes left in the game. After dominating the first half, the Indianapolis defense wasn’t able to keep up that pace and yielded 14 second-half points in its 20-16 loss, as closing out games continues to be the team’s Achilles heel all year long.
Here’s a review of the play of the Colts’ defensive linemen in 2017:
Al Woods, at nose tackle, and Johnathan Hankins, at defensive tackle, combined to start 15 of the team’s 16 games in their first years with the team in 2017 (Hankins Missed Week 17 due to an ankle injury).
The pair ranked as the third and fourth most impactful players according to Pro Football Focus, with Hankins earning a grade of 85 and Woods grading out at 84.1.
On the year, Hankins had 44 tackles (four for a loss) with two sacks, three passes defensed and five quarterback hits. Woods also had 44 tackles (five for a loss) and added one sack and two quarterback hits.
Henry Anderson was starting to flash some dominance from his defensive end position prior to a unique season-ending throat injury suffered against the Houston Texans Week 9.
Prior to that laryngeal fracture, Anderson was building some serious momentum, and finished his season with 19 tackles (four for a loss) with two sacks, seven quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
Anderson and fellow defensive end Margus Hunt each blocked kicks during the 2017 season. Anderson redirected a 34-yard field goal attempt by Cincinnati Bengals kicker Randy Bullock in Week 8, and two weeks later, Hunt got a piece of a Chris Boswell extra-point attempt against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Prior to Anderson’s pla8y the Colts had not blocked a field goal since Sergio Brown against the Arizona Cardinals on Nov. 23, 2013.
Hunt — looming at 6 foot 8 and nearly 300 pounds, started in place of the injured Anderson during the second half of the season and filled in admirably. His six tackles for loss were tied for the third most on the team, and the fifth-year veteran, in his first season in Indy, also added 29 total tackles with one sack, seven quarterback hits and two passes defensed.
Hassan Ridgeway had a solid sophomore campagin in 2017, ranking second on the Colts with three sacks, which led all interior linemen. The 2016 fourth-round draf tpick out of Texans started the season finale against the Houston Texans in place of Hankins and contributed three tackles (one for a loss) with one sack and a quarterback hit to wrap up the year.
2017 fourth-round pick Grover Stewart found some success in his rookie season, contributing 23 tackles (one for a loss). Joey Mbu and Anthony Johnson also provided depth and a rotation to keep the starters fresh throughout the season.
Number to remember
53: The Colts’ defense, led by its front, held the Cincinnati Bengals’ offense to 53 rushing yards and a 2.8 yards-per-carry average Week 8 at Paul Brown Stadium. It was the lowest rushing total for an Indy opponent in 2017.