INDIANAPOLIS – For the second straight season, the Colts are in the discussion for some significant season awards.
Thanks to a career-season at the age of 32, Robert Mathis has firmly planted himself as one of the leading candidates for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Colts.com looks at five different Defensive Player of the Year candidates with the focus on Mathis.
So why does Mathis deserve the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year…
-Mathis 16.5 sacks leads the NFL (1.5 more than Robert Quinn) and he's second in the league with six forced fumbles.
-While Mathis 16.5 sacks speak for itself, it's the timeliness of those plays that have changed games.
-Against Oakland, Mathis final drive sack of the dynamic Terrelle Pryor pushed the Raiders into a 2nd-and-24 and two plays later Antoine Bethea's interception preserved the 21-17 opening season victory.
-Two weeks later, Mathis sacked 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick 1.5 times as the Colts earned a much-needed 27-7 road victory against the defending NFC Champions.
-The following week, Mathis tied a career-high with 3.0 sacks for the third time in his 11-year NFL tenure.
-Against the Seahawks, Mathis sacked dual-threat quarterback Russell Wilson 2.0 times and forced a fumble as the Colts knocked of the NFL's best team.
-The highlight of Mathis 2013 campaign came on Oct. 20. Mathis sacked Peyton Manning 2.0 times and it was his second quarter strip/sack that changed momentum. With the Colts trailing 14-10, Mathis tomahawk chopped Manning's right arm in the south end zone and the bouncing ball resulted in a safety. The Mathis strip/sack started a streak of 23 straight Colts points as Indianapolis headed into its bye week with a 33-14 win over the AFC's top team.
-In a critical divisional matchup to start off the month of December, Mathis once again made a game changing play. With the Titans leading 14-12 and marching in Colts territory late in the third quarter, there was No. 98 wrecking havoc. Mathis strip/sack of Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick led to an Adam Vinatieri field goal. The Colts would not lose that lead in a win that ultimately led to capturing the AFC South.
One could argue that at least three different games this year was greatly decided by a Mathis sack and/or forced fumble.
Mathis 16.5 sacks makes up 48.5 percent of the Colts 2013 sack total, a percentage that dwarfs any other sack leader.
It's the timeliness of those Mathis sacks/fumbles that separates him among the other Defensive Player of the Year candidates.
Other Defensive Player of the Year Candidates:
Bengals LB-Vontaze Burfict(139 tackles, 1 sack): Burfict is already among the game's top linebackers after going undrafted in 2012. While Burfict leads the NFL in tackles, the lack of "game changing" plays is what's hurting his candidacy. This award tends to lean away from tackling machines and more towards sack leaders or ball-hawkers in the secondary.Rams DE-Robert Quinn(15.0 sacks, 7 forced fumbles): Quinn might provide the strongest competition to Mathis from a numbers standpoint. Winning the sack title might push Quinn past Mathis but the biggest problem facing the young Rams pass rusher is his team's record. Sure, he's having an elite season but the Rams are 6-8 on the year and unlike the Colts, St. Louis' season will end next Sunday.Seahawks CB-Richard Sherman(39 tackles, 13 pass deflections, 6 interceptions): Part of the Legion of Boom, Sherman is your prototypical shut down cornerback. Teams shy away from looking his way and that's the ultimate compliment for a defensive back. However, of Sherman's six interceptions only one has come against a team with a better than .500 record.Seahawks S-Earl Thomas(93 tackles, 8 pass deflections, 5 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles): Thomas is the complete package at the safety position. He's the best player on the best defense in the league and that goes a long way in deciding the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. While Quinn's numbers rival that of Mathis, it's Thomas that is garnering some heavy attention for this honor.