‘Voices’ helping Colts’ Robert Mathis deal with sackless streak
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – As the drought has intensified – two games without a sack, three, four, five, six – Robert Mathis has heard and heeded voices.
There were words of support from his wife, Brandi.
“My wife had to talk me off a ledge a couple of times from week 1 till now,’’ Mathis revealed Friday.
“Dead-ass serious,’’ he said. “She told me to be Robert. ‘Just be Robert’ and that’s probably the best advice I ever got.
“The good and bad, she sees me (when) I get up out of the bed and when I lay down to sleep. She does a great job of keeping me motivated, keeping the main thing the main thing.’’
Mathis’ response to his better half?
“‘I appreciate you. I love you.’’’
Then, as Mathis has endured the first streak of five games without a sack to open a season in his 14-year career, there was counsel from former Indianapolis Colts teammate and close friend Dwight Freeney. They talk frequently, and Mathis refers to Freeney as “my brother.’’
“He’s kind of helped me through the process and understand that when they come, they come in bunches,’’ Mathis said. “You just have to keep chopping wood.’’
Freeney’s advice: Stick to it. Don’t hang your head and just keep rushing.
The clichés are cheeky, but signposts as Mathis attempts to find his way out of one of the worst stretches of his decorated career.
Even at 35, he was supposed to be the catalyst to the Colts’ pass rush. Remember, we’re talking about the team’s career sack leader with 118.
Yet they head into Sunday night’s pivotal AFC South clash at Houston with a meager seven sacks in large part because Mathis has yet to nudge his personal needle. The current six-game drought – he was sackless in the ’15 finale – is the longest of his career excluding his rookie season of 2003 when he went seven consecutive games without a sack while primarily laboring on special teams.
Mathis isn’t one to lean on excuses, but he’s been dealing with turf toe since the opening game of the season. That undoubtedly has impacted his burst and ability to cut and spin off blocks.
When asked if he’s been dealing with some stuff through the first portion of the season, Mathis was direct.
“Not getting to the quarterback,’’ he said.
Is it turf toe?
“Step slower and got to get to the quarterback,’’ he said. “It’s foot issues. I’ll leave it at that.
“Over time it gets better. It is what it is.’’
The Colts are doing whatever they can to help Mathis heal and regain his form. He usually is held out of at least one practice each week, and coordinator Ted Monachino is monitoring his game-day reps. Mathis has been on the field for 215 of 336 defensive snaps, 64 percent.
But the production has been woefully deficient: zero sacks, one quarterback hit, one tackle for loss, 10 total tackles.
As the season continues to unfold, the team’s objective is to dial back some of Mathis’ workload on early downs to maximize him as a pass-rush threat on third down. It’s also conscious that at his age, it takes longer for him to heal from game-to-game.
“He’s a veteran that’s been in this league a long time and they don’t heal as fast as they always have,’’ Monachino said. “But I know this, as he gets further and further down the season, he’s not wearing down. He’s getting healthier as we go.
“We would expect him to play better. I know that he expects himself to play better . . . and I look forward to him making some plays for us still. I still have confidence and I feel good about where Robert is.’’
So Mathis perseveres, well aware he’s on the downside of a career that’s made him a borderline candidate for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He’s a six-time Pro Bowl selection and led the NFL with a club-record 19.5 sacks in 2013.
As if advice from his wife and Freeney aren’t enough motivation, a recent story in the local newspaper has a prominent place in his locker. The headline: A Legend’s Fall.
“Something to look back on when it’s all said and done and just laugh and have a nice little Coke and a smile about it,’’ Mathis said. “I understand. Media, they have a job to do and most of the stuff kind of thrives on the negative stuff.
“My job is to keep that to a minimum.’’
And that means snapping the dry spell and tacking up some sacks.
The team has ruled cornerback Darius Butler (fractured finger) as questionable for Sunday’s game. Offensive lineman Jon Harrison (illness), wide receiver Donte Moncrief (shoulder) and defensive lineman Zach Kerr (ankle) are out.