Colts Need Bjoern Werner to Step Up While Robert Mathis Is Suspended

Rivers McCown@riversmccownNFL AnalystAugust 27, 2014

Indianapolis Colts' Bjoern Werner (92) makes a play during the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the New York Giants Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Chris Howell)
Chris Howell/Associated Press

With Robert Mathis out for the first four games of the season due to a violation of the NFL's substance abuse policy, the Colts have no choice but to turn to 2013 first-round pick Bjoern Werner at outside linebacker.

The original plan, of course, was for them to play together. However, Werner couldn't provide enough of a pass rush to beat out stopgap Erik Walden on the outside.

Whether you want to use Pro Football Focus' ratings or cold hard numbers, Werner struggled last season. There are plenty of examples of players who blossomed after their first season, so it's too early to completely write Werner off.

The tape was ugly, though, and there were few signs of improvement.

Advanced Pass Rushing Numbers, 2013 Colts
NamePFF Pass Rush RatingPFF HurriesFO HurriesSacks
Robert Mathis24.93933.319.5
Erik Walden-6.32123.83.0
Bjoern Werner-6.9105.02.5
Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders

What struck me while preparing for this piece was the question: "What really is a hurry?"

I looked at the tape, found Werner's hurries from last season and what I saw was a lot of what I would call "manufactured" hurries—blitzes where the offensive line left him unblocked off the edge, play-action bootlegs where he was setting the edge and found himself unblocked with a ride at the quarterback, massive mental errors in blocking by a tight end.

Yes, Werner had 10 hurries in PFF's opinion and five in Football Outsiders' estimation, but how many of those hurries actually involved him beating his man one-on-one? Not many.

Pro Football Focus Preseason Stats -- Bjoern Werner
HurriesQB HitsStopsPass Rush Grade
Pro Football Focus

Outside of one promising run against Breno Giacomini with the New York Jets' first-stringers on the field, I still haven't seen much evidence that Werner is ready to provide a pass rush on his own this preseason. He's been better in coverage, but that's not why you select a first-round outside linebacker.

Credit: NFL Preseason Live

And the hurry above? It is nice to see Werner beating somebody to the edge, even if it is a right tackle who had his issues in pass-blocking last season. With that said, the technique here is fine by the tackleI'd blame this hurry more on Geno Smith for taking so long to step up in the pocket.

Werner got pressure on the next pass play after the Jets let him go on a rush. He also hit Drew Brees by holding the edge on play action after he was unblocked.

That has been the extent of his pass-rushing productivity this preseason.

Of the hurries that Football Outsiders granted Werner last season, only two were impressive: He beat Joe Staley at hand-fighting, forcing Colin Kaepernick to step up in the pocket in Week 3. He alsoeventuallysplit a pair of linemen against Arizona in Week 12.

Credit: NFL Game Rewind

I think you can craft an argument that this ball needed to come out much sooner.

I wasn't really sure what the Colts were doing when they took Werner 24th overall. I understood why they wanted a second good pass-rusher to pair with Mathis, of course, but I didn't think Werner would convert well as a stand-up pass-rusher.

While, again, it's too early to write him off, I'm still not seeing anything to make me reconsider my initial opinion.

Werner could compile 20 hurries if he hits the starting lineup all season. Head coach Chuck Pagano is that good at scheming unblocked players. However, Werner will only rarely be able to beat an offensive lineman on his own with what he has shown so far.

That's a problem for a team that desperately needs a pass rush from him, especially for the first four games of the season.


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