We say it all the time: Dwight Freeney is one of the three greatest Colts ever.
Robert Mathis should be in the Ring of Honor.
Just how much of an impact do those two players have on a football game? The Footballoutisders have listed the most "pressures" in the league from last year. A pressure is a hidden stat. It doesn't show up as a sack, but can absolutely change a game. Matt Schaub drops back to pass on third and 10. He looks deep down field for Andre Johnson. Instead of hurling a first down pass, he sees Freeney coming out of the corner of his eye. He stops and hits his running back for a short three yard gain and a punt. No sack. No stat. Maximum impact.
Hurries aren't as immediately effective as sacks, in that they don't end plays, but they do affect quarterback play. Last season, the average pass play yielded 6.2 yards and a mean DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average, FBO's per-play efficiency metric) of 13.6 percent. When the defense hurried the quarterback, the average pass play gained 5.0 yards and averaged a DVOA of minus-16.2 percent. There are those rare quarterbacks, like Aaron Rodgers, Donovan McNabb and Ben Roethlisberger, who produce well when under that kind of pressure, but the average stats tell the value of the hurry.
Freeney lead the NFL with 34 pressures. Elvis Dumervil was second with 33. Mathis was third with 30.
What is amazing about that stat is that neither player played 16 games last year. Mathis and Freeney both appeared in only 14 games each, and in some of those games, they saw limited action (Jacksonville).
How important are Freeney and Mathis to what the Colts do? They rank 3rd and 6th respectively in terms of highest percentage of total team hurries. Freeney accounted for 29.3% of the Colts hurries in 2009. Mathis racked up 25.9%. That means that more than 55% of the time that a QB has to throw before he wants to against the Colts, Freeney or Mathis is responsible. Oh, did I mention we drafted Jerry Hughes in the first round? If anyone has any lingering doubts as to how big a need a third pass rusher is for the Colts, they only have to look at these numbers.
It's easy for outsiders to mock the Colts for playoff failures, but considering that one of the two has been injured for three of the past five postseason losses, it makes sense why the Colts have struggled. Of all the terrible things that happened to hurt the Colts in the Super Bowl this year, the biggest by far was when Dwight Freeney turned his ankle in the AFC Championship game.
Mathis and Freeney. More than just sacks.