Persevering Through Tough Times Part of the Game, Freeney Says
INDIANAPOLIS – He has been there before. Often.
Dwight Freeney, like any elite-level defensive end, said he has had periods in his career when no matter how close he might have come to the quarterback – and no matter how well he might have rushed – sacks simply weren't to be.
The opposing offensive coordinator might have sent an extra player – or two – to chip him as he rushed.
An opposing offense might have run far more often than it threw.
A quarterback might have thrown just a bit too quickly.
Freeney, a three-time Pro Bowl selection and the Colts' all-time sacks leader, said he has experienced all of the above and more during seven seasons as one of the NFL's elite pass rushers. He has had droughts and spurts, and while the frustrating times never get less frustrating, Freeney said Thursday he has learned to handle them better.
And he said the frustrating times do something else:
They make times like last week so much the better.
"I hate to say, 'I get used to it,' " Freeney said as the Colts (5-4) prepared to play the Houston Texans (3-6) in an AFC South game at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
"But you understand it's just part of the game. They're going to game plan and you're not always going to make the play, but if you keep on going, keep on working, you hope you finally get there or they hold the ball a little more and that one time, you can get there."
For Freeney, two of those times came this past Sunday.
Freeney, who has started eight of nine games this season after a season-ending foot injury in November of last season, registered his first sack in five games – and his first two-sack game since October 29 of last season in Jacksonville – in the Colts' 24-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The sacks were the first for the Colts in four games.
"We haven't had great sack production," Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said. "We've had good rush at times and had different kinds of schemes against us."
Dungy said it helped the pass rush against Pittsburgh that the Colts – after trailing much of the game – took a late lead. One of Freeney's sacks came when Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took a deep drop on the game's final drive with Pittsburgh trailing by the final margin.
"They did have to go up the field, especially on that last drive," Dungy said. "They had to make things happen. The quarterback holds the ball a little longer and you get some chances. You can't always measure it by sacks, but I thought Dwight did rush better last week than he did some of the previous games."
Freeney, who is tied with Robert Mathis for the Colts' lead with five sacks this season, also has 19 quarterback pressures, which leads the team by 11.
Freeney consistently has pressured quarterbacks this season, and throughout his career, he typically has had high pressure numbers even during periods when his sacks totals were limited.
Pressures, Freeney said, are imant.
But he also said there's certainly a difference in the feeling after a pressure than a sack.
"It's night and day," Freeney said, laughing. "Pressures are great, but no one really knows and no one really sees it. No one really cares. It's like, 'OK, that's what I have to use to keep going,' and if anybody studies the game, they know pressures are very important, but obviously, sacks are even bigger than that. No one talks about it, and I don't know when it will be actually noticed, but I'm going to use that forever."
In the meantime, whether sacks come or not, Freeney said he approaches the game the same. "Every time I go out there," he said, "I'm going to try to create havoc and if the numbers come, obviously it's a bonus."
But Freeney said often when the numbers don't come, there's little a defensive end – particularly one on the Colts – can do about it. Teams in recent seasons often have utilized a run-oriented offense against Indianapolis, often employing three-step drops and quick releases to negate Freeney and Mathis, two of the NFL's fastest and most-effective pass rushers.
"Teams that know us know that's one way," Freeney said. "You have to put in the formula, 'Throw the ball quick; protect the quarterback.' I don't know if that's the No. 1 thing they think about, but that's the quickest way you can lose a game.
"It's about execution on our end. If we do what we're supposed to do, they can dink and dunk us all the way down the field. If it only translates to three points and our offense is scoring, eventually, they're going to have to try to score some points. That's what usually happens.
"That's what happened with Pittsburgh and other games. Once you start getting up, all of a sudden they have to start having the routes develop down the field a little bit more to score a little faster."