Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, a legend will be taking the field in “The House that Peyton Built” one more time.
I think you all know who I’m talking about, right?
Yes, that man is Robert Mathis.
Mathis, the ferocious pass rusher for the Colts in the 2000s and 2010s, will be going into the Colts’ Ring of Honor this week. Mathis put up Hall-of-Fame-worthy numbers with the Colts as his 123 sacks are still a franchise record. He also has the most strip-sacks in NFL history with 52, a record that may stand for many years to come.
Mathis and former Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, also in the Ring of Honor, combined to be one of the most feared and productive pass-rushing tandems in NFL history. It was always a race to the quarterback to see who would get there first, with many times both meeting at the quarterback. Now, they’ll be side by side in the Colts’ Ring of Honor for the rest of time.
Mathis was well-known for his hatred of quarterbacks. The self-proclaimed “QB Hater” always talked about how he wanted to make their lives miserable and hit as many quarterbacks as he could. So, it’s fitting the day he’s going into the Ring of Honor that the quarterback he hates the most will be playing the Colts on Sunday: Tom Brady.
Brady and Mathis squared off numerous times during the height of the Colts rivalry with the New England Patriots. While both men have respect for one another, there’s no doubt there is still a little bad blood.
Now with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Brady is returning to Lucas Oil Stadium in what may be his last game on this field (I said that last time he played here too, so…we’ll see.) Brady has had quite a bit of success against Indy in his career, posting a 15-4 record if we’re including the postseason. He’ll certainly look to continue that in front of a crowd whose disdain for him is as high as any fanbase in the country.
As we look towards the game, the key to beating Brady has always been to get pressure on the future Hall of Famer. This has been evident in every Super Bowl loss Brady has endured, as the opposing team was able to get pressure and get Brady off his spot.
With Mathis not out there anymore, the job falls on the next great defensive linemen for the Colts; a guy they paid $84 million last offseason: DeForest Buckner.
Buckner, a 2020 NFL First-Team All-Pro selection, knows what it takes to beat Brady. Not only is it getting pressure on him, but consistent pressure and from particular spots as well.
“Just making sure that we apply pressure for all 60 minutes,” Buckner said Wednesday. “Watching film, you notice the teams that got consistent pressure on him all game, they benefited from it and ended up with a win. We have to do a good job up front. Really, interior wise too getting that pressure in his face and constantly just applying pressure all day.”
Brady is a quarterback that excels at stepping up in the pocket and delivering strikes down the field to his receivers. When the pressure is coming up the middle, it doesn’t allow him to do that and gets him off his spot. That falls on Buckner’s shoulders, who will be fighting off double teams to apply that pressure right in Brady’s face.
“It’s applying pressure up the middle,” Buckner confirmed. “Collapsing the pocket on him because he wants to climb the pocket and throw it downfield. So, like I said before, we have to do a good job inside, making sure we’re collapsing the pocket, getting the pocket in his face and kind of make him throw out of a coffin.”
In the last few weeks, Buckner has started to play up to his All-Pro form. It’s no surprise that the Colts’ three-game winning streak has coincided with Buckner’s best play of the year. He ranks fourth among interior defensive linemen in that span with two sacks and second in QB hits with three. His eight quarterback hurries in that span also rank fourth in the NFL.
Teams around the league know what Buckner brings to the table and how he can become a game-wrecker if not properly accounted for on every play. Even with all of the extra attention, Buckner has still been able to make plays.
“(Buckner) continues to get good pressure, good pass rush,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “He’s getting double-teamed all the time. I mean against the Jets, they were always sliding the line to him or chipping him or putting an extra guy on him. You know how well he’s playing based on how other teams game plan against him. Every week it seems like they’re paying a lot of attention to him.”
This week will be more of the same. It’ll be up to Buckner to fight through those double-teams and lead the charge to get pressure on Brady. If Buckner can prevail, the chances of another Colts victory greatly increase.
The Buccaneers know that their best shot at keeping Brady upright on Sunday is to take #99 out of the game. However, just like with #98 in those classic Colts-Patriots battles, that’s much easier said than done.
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