Come Sunday night, Werner must be Mathis.
Well, that’s a bit much to expect. Not many can emulate or duplicate the reigning NFL sack champion’s moves, in real life or a video game, let alone a second-year pro still adjusting to playing outside linebacker after playing with his hand on the college ground as a Florida State defensive end.
But the reality is Mathis won’t be with the Colts when his former teammate, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, drops back and takes aim in a nationally televised game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Colts, to a man, say not any one player can pick up the slack, but this is Werner’s best opportunity yet to show what he can do in the NFL.
If the Colts fail to get consistent pressure on Manning, everyone knows what the five-time NFL MVP can do. They got to him just enough last year to pull out a 39-33 home win at Lucas Oil Stadium. That game included a Mathis sack for a safety.
Asked if he could share the secret to stopping Manning, Colts defensive coordinator chuckled and said Thursday, “If you’ve got it, then I’d pay some money for it.”
Coaches don’t typically discuss Xs and Os, but the Colts’ defensive blueprint couldn’t be more obvious. Manusky stated the obvious when he said the challenge is two-fold, get pressure up front to speed up Manning’s internal clock and count on the secondary to disrupt receiver routes just enough to prevent big plays.
That means it starts up front. Mathis had 19 1/2 sacks last season, more than Werner and outside linebacker Erik Walden in a combined seven seasons. Werner managed 2 1/2 as a rookie while Walden got three. Walden has just a dozen sacks in six seasons.
“It’s the pass rush, that’s the main thing,” Werner said Wednesday. “It always comes down to the D-line, if we can bring that pressure. (I’m) really excited to try and live up to the challenge and just do the best that I can.
“It was all Robert, Robert, Robert last year, so we’ll try to help him out a little bit, too, when he comes back. It can’t just be everything on him. We’re trying to get that counterpart with some young guys to step up and get some sacks, too, finally.”
But Werner, whose upside enticed Colts general manager Ryan Grigson to select him in the first round in 2013, is the key cog
“(Bjoern is) put in that position,” Manusky said, “and then we’ve got Cam behind him. There’s going to be those two guys working it and rolling it.
“It’s a situation where (Bjoern) has got to grasp the situation. Robert, we know Robert. He’s not here right now.”
Manusky might mix in some blitzes in the 3-4 scheme with linebackers D’Qwell Jackson, Jerrell Freeman and possibly Josh McNary.
Manning rarely gets hit for several reasons. His release couldn’t be quicker. He’s seen every defense that can be thrown at him. And few passers have ever had his pocket presence. He always seems to know when it’s time to step up or away from pressure. Oh, and an offensive line with three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Ryan Clady and 2013 Pro Bowl right guard Louis Vasquez is unyielding.
Manning was sacked just 18 times last season, and that’s the 13-time Pro Bowl star’s career seasonal average.
“I don’t know the answer for it, but it’s changing it up, working your stuff that you work out throughout the year, the last week, the last two weeks,” Manusky said. “From our standpoint, defensively if we’re all on the same page, we’ll have success. It’s usually when that one person or two people don’t do their jobs exactly right that he usually takes advantage of, and he usually takes advantage of it quite often.”
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.