Did Dwight Freeney's Injured Ankle Sink the Indianapolis Defense?

Nate DunlevyGuest ColumnistSeptember 11, 2012

Freeney makes a lot of plays, but he didn't have much impact on Sunday.
Freeney makes a lot of plays, but he didn't have much impact on Sunday.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Dwight Freeney is one of the most feared pass-rushers in football. There's no question that when he's on the field, the Colts' defense is better than when he's not.

In the Colts' loss to the Bears in Week 1, Freeney left the game with an injured ankle after just eight plays. Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star wondered if that might have been the moment the Colts defense began to wilt. He wrote,

Though the eight snaps Freeney was on the field aren't enough to come to any definitive conclusions, the difference in the defense's performance without him was dramatic. The Bears had 4 yards of offense in the first 5 minutes and linebacker Jerrell Freeman returned an interception for a touchdown. Without Freeney on the field, Chicago had 424 yards on 62 plays, an average of 6.8 yards per snap.

A look at the tape indicates that Freeny's impact in the early moments of the game were limited at best.

It's true the Bears struggled early in the game, but there's no way to attribute any of that to Freeney's presence.

On the first play from scrimmage, Freeney dropped into coverage while Robert Mathis burst through up the middle for a sack of Cutler. That big loss essentially killed the drive before it started.

Freeney was double-teamed on a short run and had no impact on the play. The first drive ended as Cutler dropped the snap and threw the ball away. Freeney was pushed wide and had no impact.

The Bears' second drive was abrupt. Cutler overlooked Jerrell Freeman in the flat and tossed the ball straight to the linebacker. Freeney lined up on the left, and had some push, but was no threat to Cutler at the time he released the ball.

Freeney had just four more plays before leaving the game. The Bears ran the ball with Freeney not involved on first down. He dropped into coverage on second down. The Colts got pressure on third down, but Cutler rolled away and hit a first-down throw. Freeney was pushed wide and was not involved in the rush.

His final play of the game was a screen pass to his side. The ball was dropped and Freeney had no effect. He then left the game for the rest of the afternoon.

Freeney exited with no tackles and no pressures. The Colts only got a good rush on Cutler on three of the eight plays in which Freeney was in. One of those was a sack. One was the result of a dropped snap. The other ended up being a completed pass.

Had Freeney played, he would have undoubtedly done something positive for the Colts. However, while a narrative about how Freeney's injury changed the complexion of the game might be comforting to Colts fans, it's simply not accurate. The Bears' first scoring drive was already well underway when Freeney left, and even when he played he had no discernible impact.

It's true that his presence can cause uncertainty and schematic adjustments from an offense, but it's difficult to argue that was responsible for the Bears' rough start in this game.