The Colts managed to emerge victorious in their first outing of the 2013 regular season, defeating the Oakland Raiders 21-17, but the team’s linebacker corps did little to contribute. In fact, they almost cost their team the game.
The Colts linebackers simply could not get a good read on Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor. Pryor ran all over the defense, passing and throwing whenever and however he pleased. By day’s end, his stat line included 217 passing yards and a touchdown. More impressive, he rushed for an astonishing 112 yards — the most in the entire National Football League — despite not being an actual running back. Robert Mathis recorded the Colts’ only sack of the game, and it took him until the very end of the fourth quarter to get to the quarterback. Over all, the linebackers were very slow and put little pressure on Pryor, who probably beat himself with a few poor passing decisions that resulted in two interceptions.
What hurt the linebackers so much? Hurt players, and a lack of depth at the position. The team had just three active inside linebackers on the roster Sunday. Starter Pat Angerer and Kavell Connor both sat out, leaving Kelvin Sheppard, Jerrell Freeman, and Mario Harvey to carry the bulk of the work. Considering this, the group was lucky just to finish the game as healthy as they started it. Jerrell Freeman led the way at ILB just as he did last season, when he led the entire Colts team in tackles. He had 10 tackles Sunday as the third-leading tackler. Harvey played his best on special teams. Sheppard noticeably struggled.
At outside linebacker, Mathis picked up what slack he could. As already mentioned, he recorded the only sack of the game for Indianapolis. Erik Walden, however, had a very difficult time with Pryor. Walden has historically struggled against the run and mobile quarterbacks, and Sunday was no exception. He did not look good. Rookie Bjoern Werner, in his first ever NFL game, did not make the kind of impact you’d expect from a first round draft pick, but hopefully he got his nerves out of the way and is ready to improve going forward.
Healthy players are the only things that are going to help the Colts’ linebacker corps in the immediate future. Angerer is suffering from the effects of a lingering concussion and remains day-to-day. Kavell Connor could be out for a couple more weeks. For now, the Colts will do with what they have, and hopefully the high-powered offense will continue to compensate for what the linebackers are currently lacking.