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Tip Sheet notes: It's all on Colts' line

In the playoffs, Indianapolis relies almost exclusively on its defensive line for sacks

Originally Published: January 22, 2010
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com
When middle linebacker Gary Brackett sacked Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco for a 6-yard loss in the second quarter of last week's division-round playoff game, it ended a Ravens offensive possession. But the sack, which came on a third-and-7 play, also ended an incredibly unusual streak for the Indianapolis defense.

Since the sack became an officially recognized statistic by the NFL in 1982, the Colts have had more hometowns than playoff sacks by their linebackers. Brackett's takedown of Flacco was the first official sack by an Indianapolis linebacker in the playoffs, and the first by a non-lineman since safety Jason Belser registered a half-sack of quarterback Jay Fiedler in a 2000 wild-card loss at Miami.

Since then, the Colts had gone 13 postseason games without a sack by a player who was not a defensive lineman. In those games, the Colts had 24 sacks, including 11.5 combined by ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.

In fact, Indianapolis hasn't had many regular-season sacks by non-linemen since 2002, when Tony Dungy became the Colts' head coach. In that period, the Colts had 272 sacks, and only 33 of them (12.1 percent) came from non-linemen. This season the Colts had 34 sacks, and linebackers and defensive backs posted only 3.5 of them. Freeney and Mathis combined for 23 of the 30.5 sacks by linemen. The most sacks by an Indianapolis non-lineman in the past six seasons was 3.5 by strong safety Bob Sanders in 2007. Not since 2003, when Marcus Washington had six sacks, has a linebacker had more than three sacks in a season.

But that doesn't mean the Indianapolis defense hasn't been more aggressive in 2009.

Under first-year coordinator Larry Coyer, the Colts are blitzing much more than they did under Dungy and former coordinator Ron Meeks, who believed the front four should supply most of the pass rush. The dearth of sacks by non-linemen in 2009 isn't really attributable to a lack of blitzing by Indianapolis linebackers and defensive backs.

"We are definitely [blitzing] a lot more this year, and we're getting more hits on the quarterback, if not necessarily sacks," Brackett said. Added weakside linebacker Clint Session, who has one half-sack in 29 starts over the past two seasons: "We're choosing our spots [when we blitz] pretty well, and maybe the sack numbers don't show it, but we've been effective doing it."

The Colts had two sacks of Mark Sanchez, both by Freeney, in the Dec. 27 regular-season meeting with the New York Jets. They'll try to expand the number of sacks -- and sackers -- Sunday against the Jets' rookie quarterback.

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