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Ben Banogu, Tyquan Lewis Will Be Vital to Colts' Pass Rush in 2022

While the Colts' made a big move this offseason to acquire veteran Yannick Ngakoue, the rest of the team's pass rushing depth will be key to the group's success in 2022.
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The Indianapolis Colts' pass rush was a major issue in 2021, particularly when it came to production off of the edge. The team's leader in hurries (rookie Kwity Paye) finished with just 28 on the season, which was good for 32nd best among all edge rushers. As a team, the Colts were ranked 31st in total pressures this past season with just 120 overall (according to Pro Football Reference).

Luckily, Colts' General Manager Chris Ballard recognized this as a major deficiency and sought outside help to rectify the issue. The team hired long-time coach Gus Bradley to be the Defensive Coordinator this offseason. Bradley spent last season as the Las Vegas Raiders' Defensive Coordinator, helping that team rank 12th in total pressures in 2021. The Colts also traded for veteran pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue, a player that has amassed 55.5 sacks in his six year career.

While acquiring Ngakoue was a smart move for this team, the Colts will need production from the depth players behind him to have success in 2022. In fact, Ngakoue has traditionally been much more efficient when his snaps have been kept to a reasonable total. From 2018-2020, Ngakoue averaged around 738 snaps a season. Last year, that number climbed all the way up to 835 with the Raiders.

With nearly 100 more snaps under his belt, Ngakoue did start to fade a bit during the Raiders' stretch run. From weeks 1-9 last year, he averaged a pressure or sack in one out of every 6.75 pass rush snaps. From weeks 10-18, he averaged a pressure or sack in just one out of every 12.16 pass rush snaps.

This isn't to say that Ngakoue is a bad player by any means, but the Colts need to lessen the load on the veteran pass rusher. The easiest way to do this is to have capable rotational pass rushers behind him that can be relied on in a pinch. In fact, this has always been Gus Bradley's preferred plan of attack up front.

This is what he said in an interview last offseason in regards to rushing in waves off of the edge:

You can never have enough rushers. That has been my mindset since the time I was in Seattle. (It’s important) to come in waves. You have a first group and then you get a second group out there. It is very good for morale in the room because everybody knows their plan and they have an impact on the game. That’s extremely important.

They know that if they earn it, we are going to find a way to get them on the field… That edge rush, man, you can never have enough of those good rushers.

Gus Bradley's defenses have typically been successful when he has had 3-4 capable edge rushers that he can rotate in and out. The key now, in training camp, is figuring out if the Colts actually have players behind Kwity Paye and Yannick Ngakoue that can provide a notable second wave pass rush.

The player that everyone has circled going into camp is former second-round pick Ben Banogu. After seeing a total of just 168 snaps the past two seasons combined, it is understandable that many in the fanbase are not sold on the young player's ability in this defense.

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However, Banogu is finally in a scheme that can utilize his athletic talent. Stylistically, he compares favorably to a player like Uchenna Nwosu, an edge rusher that Bradley coached back with the Los Angeles Chargers. Nwosu consistently saw between 250-350 snaps as a rotational pass rusher, and he averaged around 25 pressures a season with Bradley.

While it may be a jump to expect that much out of Banogu in 2022, he does have a similar pass rush win rate as Nwosu for his career (hovering around 11-13%).

The other notable player that could take the load off of the starters would be Tyquan Lewis. Lewis is a bit different from Banogu, as he started to show signs of breaking out early in the 2021 season. He was nearing career highs in both sacks and pressures through just eight weeks before he suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Tennessee Titans.

A good Gus Bradley comparison for Lewis would be what Carl Nassib was able to do for the Raiders in 2021. Nassib played 251 snaps this past season, and finished with a modest 14 pressures on 128 pass rushing opportunities. He was primarily used as a run defender, but he made the most of his opportunities in the pass rushing department.

With Lewis' ability in run defense, he should be able to fill the role that Nassib played last year quite nicely. He also offers much more upside than Nassib did as a pass rusher, so he could even see more snaps as a rotational rusher this upcoming season.

My overall point with this piece is to say that yes, Kwity Paye and Yannick Ngakoue are the main guys off of the edge in 2022. Their success, and the team's success in this department overall, will come down to how the second-wave of rushers can perform. If that second-wave proves to be inefficient, we could see Ngakoue and Paye start to wear out down the stretch run late in the year.

In a perfect world, both Tyquan Lewis and Ben Banogu step up to the plate and provide that valuable depth that the Colts' need and the two former second-round picks will be afforded every chance to earn their spot in the rotation this offseason. If they can both take that step forward, expect big things put of the Colts' pass rush in 2022.

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