Colts' Improved Pass Rush Paying Dividends
INDIANAPOLIS – Colts defensive end Robert Mathis might not have earned AFC Defensive Player-of-the-Week honors, but his performance last Sunday against Seattle – two-and-a-half sacks and two forced fumbles – still had teammates talking this week.
Fellow defensive end Dwight Freeney said Mathis brought "tremendous pressure" against the Seahawks.
And defensive tackle Ed Johnson beamed, "When he plays like that, I love it.
"It makes everyone else's job easier and our opponents have to worry about him more. When he's rolling like that, it makes everything easier."
And when everyone is rolling like Mathis, the Colts' pass rush produces the type of results it has through the first quarter of the season.
After Sunday's five-sack performance, the Colts' defense ranks fourth in the NFL with a total of 12 sacks, twice as many as it had through four games in 2008.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said the team's ability to both blitz and drop back into coverage has given the defense "a pretty good balance."
"It's given us a little change, just in terms of where we attack an offense," Caldwell said. "They can't anticipate that it's going to be the same look, so they have to do a little guesswork to prepare for us."
One contributing factor to the Colts' pass rush success has been the team's offense. With quarterback Peyton Manning and the offense building significant leads early in the past two weeks, opposing teams have been forced to abandon the run and try and catch up through the air.
Opponents have attempted 160 passes against the Colts, the most in the NFL. But since the team's pass rush has been able to put such pressure on the quarterback, Indianapolis has yielded only two passing touchdowns, the third-lowest total in the league.
"It has been amazing lately," safety Melvin Bullitt said. "We have three, four, five guys chasing the quarterback every play. He's scrambling for his life, and that makes our job (in the secondary) way easier."
While Freeney and Mathis rank tied for fourth and fifth in the league with five sacks and four-and-a-half sacks, respectively, the club's defensive schemes do not leave the task of blitzing solely to the front four.
"It does give us an opportunity to bring a few more guys from time-to-time," Caldwell said.
Against the Seahawks last Sunday, middle linebacker Freddy Keiaho got the call and came up with a huge stop on third down late in the first quarter. Keiaho chased quarterback Seneca Wallace out of the pocket and forced the scrambling signal-caller out of bounds five yards behind the line of scrimmage, giving him a sack.
Keiaho credited the team's defensive tackles, who have been winning the battle up front and are supplying pressure up the middle.
"Anytime you can get the defensive line to penetrate like that, it certainly makes it easier on the back seven," he said.
The other Colt to register a sack this season, veteran defensive end Raheem Brock, said the team is trying to get to the quarterback "on every down."
"Our defensive tackles are playing great, controlling the line of scrimmage and putting (our opponents) in passing situations. And when the offense is putting points on the board, it puts the defense in a great position."
Brock said the defense is as "comfortable" as it has been for a while and that the unit is playing with a lot of confidence.
"We are out there having fun. The defense is flying around and trying to make plays, and it just keeps getting better," he said.
When looking back at the defense's performance over the first four games, Freeney said it should be no surprise the players involved in the pass rush are enjoying themselves.
"The more success you have when you're winning, the more fun it's going to be," he said. "And that's what is going on right now."
The Colts issued Thursday's injury report with DE-Dwight Freeney (not injury related-rested) listed as full participation in practice and RB-Joseph Addai (hand) listed as limited participation. Colts players listed as did not participate in practice included WR-Anthony Gonzalez (knee), DBs-Kelvin Hayden (hamstring), Marlin Jackson (knee) and Bob Sanders (knee) and OT-Charlie Johnson (knee).