If it's obvious to announce that Dwight Freeney is good, it can't be overemphasized how vital his presence is to the Colts' pass defense.In a unit that relies on the contributions of a small selection of elite players, Freeney makes either almost or approximately the same difference as Bob Sanders.
While the secondary star brings versatility and uncanny instincts to the Colts, Freeney's phenomenal speed and straightforward technique ensure either direct anxiety for the passer or stress on other aspects of the offense as coordinators position blockers specifically to counteract the defensive end.
Freeney's 3.5 sacks over the nine games he played before his foot injury sent him to injured reserve were actually a high percentage of the squad's total. The Colts finished 2007 with a meager 28 sacks, good for 26th in the league. They tied with the Browns and had just one more than the Raiders, not exactly two elite franchises recently either in general or specifically defensively.
Simply, the Colts need Freeney to be healthy so he can at worst generate pressure on quarterbacks and ideally accumulate backfield tackles. Truth be told, there aren't too many other threats on the roster who can do so with any regularity.
Robert Mathis led the team in 2007 for the category, as he got seven sacks during the 13 games in which he appeared. After that, Freeney's sack total actually tied him for second-best over the entire season with roving wild man Sanders.
It's true that the safety is an aforementioned unique threat, but the fact that no other lineman was able to generate more quarterback takedowns is a testament to the value of a healthy Freeney.
Of course, Freeney only got himself 5.5 sacks in 2006, his last healthy season, but it was because offenses decided to make accounting for him their primary priority. That's part of the reason why the Colts were even worse at sacking the year before last, getting 25 and finishing second-last in the NFL.
Yet, the Colts conceded only 159.2 passing yards per contest in 2006; that's contrasted to 172.8 yards in the same category last season, something that was affected by the lack of constant pressure up front. While it may not seem like a huge difference, it is noticeable. More importantly, Indianapolis dropped precipitously in pass defense for the playoffs from the year before.
Specifically, they gave up 312 passing yards against the Chargers last month and didn't topple the quarterback before he could release the ball. Compare that to the Super Bowl postseason, where they only gave up 155.8 yards per game through the air while managing eight total sacks, and the difference made by Freeney's absence is alarmingly evident.
General manager Bill Polian recently announced a rough timetable for the return of some of the team's wounded stars, specifically noting that he thought Freeney would be ready not for training camp but for opening day. It's just a projection, one that his fans and teammates better hope holds true.
It goes without saying that a three-time Pro Bowler who, at age 28, already has 60 sacks is valuable, and the point to remember is that it turns out he is really, really valuable. Aside from his stellar numbers, Freeney makes the Colts better just by lining up.