What more can be said about this topic that hasn’t already been said? Robert Mathis, suspended for four games for a violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy, is the most impactful player on the Colts defense.
Adam Schein of NFL.com recently ranked Mathis as the No. 3 most indispensable defender in the league, behind Madden 15 cover-winner Richard Sherman and 2013 AP Defensive Player of the Year Luke Kuechly. I’d put him ahead of those two, personally, given the talent supporting them (Earl Thomas in Seattle and a top-notch defensive line in Carolina). Mathis has no cushioning unit to pick up the slack when he’s not performing.
Clearly, the first four weeks of the 2014 season are going to be interesting. The Colts face the record-breaking Denver Broncos offense and Peyton Manning in Week 1 and the innovative Chip Kelly and the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 2. The two offenses ranked first and third in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA in 2013, and look to be among the league leaders in 2014 once again.
Erik Walden says that he hopes to pick up the slack in Mathis' absence, according to Reggie Hayes of The News-Sentinel:
Definitely sack total is my primary focus. No reason, no excuse, just get it done. I have to remain solid, stopping the run, setting the edge, but sacks are my primary focus. It's an emphasis since big homie (Mathis) is gone for four games. It's going to take all of us. I'm putting pressure on myself to replace 19½. Somebody has to do it.
It’s difficult to gauge pass-rushers during the minimal-contact OTAs, so the bulk of those battles will come during training camp. Do keep an eye out during mandatory minicamp next week, in which the entire roster will finally be present in Indianapolis.