INDIANAPOLIS – Life in the NFL is all about surviving and adapting during the course of a 16-game schedule.
However, if you were to compare what the Colts pass rush was facing without the services of Robert Mathis, to being stranded on a deserted island, the similarity was that resources were scarce (unproven) without the Colts all-time sack leader.
But after six weeks of the NFL season, the Colts pass rush not only has survived the absence of last season's league leader in sacks (19.5), but also has done its best Mathis' impersonation in being among the league's most disruptive units.
"I'm pleased at the progress," defensive end Cory Redding says. "I'm pleased with how the guys have continued to work despite all the attacks; whether it's right or wrong, we still get attacked. All we can continue to do is trust one another, trust this process and just go out and play. Let the plays come to us. When it clicks, it clicks. When it rains, it pours and that's what's happening."
How would the Colts replace the game's top pass rusher?
That was thought to be the question for the first quarter of the season with Mathis facing a four-game suspension and the Colts facing two of the league's most explosive attacks right out of the gate in Denver and Philadelphia.
Four games of worry quadrupled when news broke of Mathis injuring his Achilles tendon after the Colts season opener.
The questions fielded all offseason long were being asked again.
Worry never grew inside the Colts locker room.
Words didn't need to be spoken.
Players knew what had to happen.
"What I've noticed about this locker room thus far is we've been preaching that from day one," inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson says. "It was disappointing to see that (Mathis) got injured. There wasn't a conversation, though. Every guy is taking on that ownership that we are missing one of our studs, a potential Hall of Famer one day. This has to be a collective effort from everyone and it's showing."
That it is.
The Colts currently have 10 players with a sack (last year the Colts had 11 guys record a sack) and the unit is fifth in the NFL with 17 sacks (16 in the last four weeks).
"That's what we expect," outside linebacker Erik Walden says. "It may be surprising to other people, but those are the expectations we have for ourselves."
Opposite Walden along the defensive front is where Bjoern Werner is filling in.
A Week Five contest at Lucas Oil Stadium against Baltimore was supposed to be the return of Mathis to the lineup. Yet there was No. 98 watching from the sideline as his young pupil performed Mathis' sack dance after a two- sack performance and followed that up with a game-clinching strip/sack in Houston last week.
Werner isn't the only one re-enacting the fluid motions of Mathis.
Redding, the 33-year-old leader of the unit, is playing productive football in his 12th NFL season.
This offseason, Redding pondered the thought of retirement but he has found the fountain of youth for a unit needing, and getting, results and a veteran voice.
"Cory comes to work every day with a great attitude," Head Coach Chuck Pagano says of the man who followed him from Baltimore. "To me, it's all spirit-driven. His energy and passion is off the charts.
"He's playing at a really high level right now. He's having a ton of fun out there and he knows from a career standpoint, you start getting up there like Reggie (Wayne) and some of these guys, you don't know how many games you have left and you're not guaranteed the next one. So he's taken full advantage of every single game that he's playing, every snap that he has out there, and certainly the rest of the guys are feeding off of his energy, his play, his emotion, all those things. He's just a phenomenal leader for us out there."
On Sunday, Redding will implore the 12th man to rise to their feet on a third-down play and Mathis will be on the sideline doing the same.
His physical presence might not be coming off the edge and wreaking havoc in 2014, but Mathis is still alive and well instilling his own insight into Colts players.
"It's the same shot of Vitamin C, if you will, when Reggie (Wayne) came back a year ago after his surgery and was back on the sideline," Pagano says of Mathis. "He's another set of eyes. He's another coach. He's another guy that's pushing those guys, motivating those guys, going through the pictures, going through the schemes, talking about the pass rush and talking about, 'Here's what this guy's doing to you on this certain play.'
"Just having him back in the locker room, back in the building, back on the sideline is a huge boost. They know what a warrior that guy is. They know what he brings to the table week in and week out. They know how he plays the game. All they're trying to do is respect him and represent him by playing the game the way it's supposed to be played."