The Colts over the last few years have been awful on defense. They have never finished as a top 10 defense against either rush or pass in the entire Chuck Pagano era. Against the run, they have never finished in the top half of NFL teams. So it has been a pleasant surprise (the 2nd half against the Seahawks not withstanding) to see the improvement in play on defense, especially against the run where the Colts were giving up just 85 yards per game before their trip to Seattle.
One of the main reasons for their improved defense has been the savvy free agent additions that Chris Ballard has made. Offseason additions such as Al Woods and Jonathan Hankins have given the Colts a stout middle and the performance of new OLBs John Simon and Jabaal Sheard have provided strong help on the edges, both in the pass and run game.
Rather than attempting to look at the whole defense, I want to introduce a series of focus article that will look at players across the defense individually. For this one, I want to look at Jabaal Sheard and his performance against the Seahawks where he had his best game of the season, tallying 7 total tackles, one TFL and his first sack of the year.
A consistent word in this piece will be ‘strength’, because it is the quality Sheard possesses more than any other. It was on how on the Seahawks first offensive play as he drove the RT back, before disengaging from his block and diving inside to bring down the RB for no gain.
This strength was on display again later in the first quarter when he tossed aside the LT like a rag doll and met running back Cris Carson 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. It could have been a huge play for the Colts D, except that Sheard doesn’t wrap up properly and Carson manages to escape his tackle and get back to the line of scrimmage.
While Sheard will never be the quickest off the edge, his physical strength and high motor means that he is a competent pass rusher, and he opened his account with the Colts on a play that demonstrated both of those qualities.
He initially lines up in coverage over TE Luke Willson (side note: Please don’t put him in coverage) but recognises that Willson is staying in to block and becomes a rusher (this is known as a Green Dog Blitz). Sheard’s physical strength is far too much for a TE to handle and he does a good job of hanging onto the ever elusive Russell Wilson and bringing him down for the sack.
Arguably Sheard’s biggest play of the game is one that will show up nowhere on the stat sheet, but again demonstrates the strength and relentless pursuit that Sheard possesses. As the Seahawks were driving in the late 2nd quarter, they left 7 players in to block the Colts four rushers. Realising one TE could not handle the former Browns 2nd rounder, the Seahawks put two of them on Sheard.
But even that wasn’t enough.
Sheard did a tremendous job of fighting through their blocks and made his way to Russell Wilson. Now he doesn’t get there, but as one of my favourite analysts Josh Norris says: ‘disruption is production.’ Sheard’s presence means Wilson cannot set his body and step into his throw, instead hopping and then fading away to his left to avoid the impending hit. This means the ball lacks the arc to reach Jimmy Graham and allows Colts safety Matthias Farley to make a tremendous play and tip and intercept the ball.
There is no doubt that the Colts defense is a work in progress. There are few star players on that side of the ball, and the lack of an explosive pass-rusher will continue to limit their ceiling. But Chris Ballard has done a good job of assembling a group of solid, hard working and dependable players on which to build a foundation. Jabaal Sheard has those qualities in spades and has already proved a shrewd signing by the Colts GM.
Speaking of star players, in watching this game I made this gif of Malik Hooker delivering a brutal stiff arm on his INT. I was going to hold it back for a future piece on the developing Colts DBs, but it’s too good not to share. So here you go. Enjoy: