Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports
Surprisingly, the defensive line did not hold up very well against the Indianapolis Colts’ ground game, which averaged 4.3 yards per carry between tailbacks Ahmad Bradshaw and Donald Brown. Bradshaw also scored a touchdown.
It did, however, get pressure on Andrew Luck. All too often that pressure failed to result in a sack, as Luck was able to escape. However, the pressure itself was important. What was interesting to me about the unit’s performance was that it was not led by its star player, Cameron Wake.
Olivier Vernon: D
Vernon had a very rough day at the office. He was credited for a half-sack on a play that was really just a zero-yard gain by Colts quarterback Andrew Luck. Otherwise, Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo had Vernon’s number in pass protection all day long. The result was alarming because, upon close inspection, Vernon actually had a good day, particularly with his speed-to-power move against Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, who is one of the very best in the NFL.
One can accept Vernon’s struggles rushing the passer because he is out there mainly for his ability to defend against the run. That said, he had a poor day defending the run. On a critical third-down play near the goal line, Vernon lost the edge badly, allowing Colts tailback Ahmad Bradshaw to get the first down all the way to the 1-yard line.
Jared Odrick: B-
Odrick had a solid overall day. He got a hit on Andrew Luck and also had at least one more pressure during the game. He was also decent in run defense.
Randy Starks: A
Though Starks took a lot of headlines a week ago, overall I felt Jared Odrick outperformed him against the Cleveland Browns, particularly in pass rush. This week, you could not say the same. Starks, in his role as a sub-player, clearly outperformed Odrick, the starter. Starks was consistently the guy who flashed in Andrew Luck’s face the most, forcing him to scramble.
He played mostly in pass-rush situations, so his run defense did not figure heavily into the grade. Starks may protest his role as a sub-player, but it is clear that keeping him on a pitch count over the last two games has resulted in a more impactful player than a year ago.
Paul Soliai: B+
Though the Colts' ground game did passably well overall, defensive tackle Paul Soliai was rarely to blame. He made plays when the ball came to his gap. He pushed around offensive linemen and caused several loss-of-yards plays. He also hit quarterback Andrew Luck at least once and played better than usual in pass rush.
Cameron Wake: D
His name alone makes the grade seem unjustified. However, to give him higher than a “D” would be inflating his grade based solely on reputation. The fact of the matter is that Wake had a tough day at the office trying to generate a pass rush by getting around Colts right tackle Gosder Cherilus. He most likely had the most pass-rush snaps of any player on the defense, yet he only flashed at Andrew Luck as a threat one or two times. His run defense was not anything to write home about, as Miami’s edges proved soft during the game.
Derrick Shelby: B
Once again, Shelby flashed from his role as a reserve defensive end, clearly outperforming starting right defensive end Olivier Vernon. For the second straight week, Shelby was able to produce a strip-sack. He also showed up strong on at least one run play and pressured Andrew Luck at least once more in addition to the strip-sack. That is a lot of good work considering how few times he saw the field.
Dion Jordan: C
By rights, his grade should be higher based purely on efficiency. He was only on the field for four or five pass-rush snaps, yet he produced two hits on quarterback Andrew Luck. One was a very solid hit which resulted in an errant throw. However, on the second pressure of Luck, he merely shoved Luck in the backfield instead of wrapping him up. This allowed Luck to escape and produce a first down. The mistake was so egregious at such an important point of the game that it wipes out his otherwise good work.
The Dolphins used him much as I had suggested in a previous piece during the week, stunting inside and keeping tabs on Andrew Luck in the pocket. His first priority was to keep Luck bottled up, and if he saw the opportunity, to attack and get after him in the pocket. That is what made the missed tackle on Luck such a bad mistake. Jordan's top priority was to make sure Luck did not scramble for first downs, yet on that play he allowed the Colts quarterback to do exactly that.