Assessing the Colts during the offseason: Defensive line

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Kendall Langford

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – By any standard, the Indianapolis Colts weren’t good enough in 2016.

The only bottom line that matters: finishing 8-8 (again) and missing the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

“We understand that 8-8 in not good enough and that’s on me,’’ coach Chuck Pagano said. “This is a winning culture, it is a winning organization and we didn’t achieve the goal and we all know that.’’

It’s going to take significant personnel changes during the offseason if the Colts are going to return to relevancy. That includes prudent investments in veteran free agency, which begins March 9, and further bolstering a flawed roster through the April 27-29 draft.

Before we consider outside solutions, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Colts.

Today: Defensive line

Under contract: E Kendall Langford, T Henry Anderson, T Art Jones, T David Parry, T Hassan Ridgeway, T T.Y. McGill, E Kristjan Sokoli.

Pending free agents: T Zach Kerr (restricted).

Looking back: This was expected to be a position of strength with the return of Langford, Anderson, Jones, Parry, Kerr and McGill. It was an interesting blend of experience, youth and bulk.

So much for expectations.

Langford, the group’s MVP a year ago, was a non-factor after undergoing knee surgery in early August. He started the first seven games and extended his ironman streak to 135 consecutive games played, but managed just 11 tackles and finished the season on IR. Anderson’s availability and effectiveness were compromised by his comeback from season-ending surgery on his left knee last year and an injury to his right knee in October. In 11 games, he collected 15 tackles.

Jones? Another forgettable season. He missed the first five games after violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing substances policy and the last three with a groin injury.

That left the first line of defense in the hands of players better suited for rotational roles, not as starters. Parry joined Frank Gore as the only Colts to start all 32 games the last two seasons, and the 2015 fifth-round draft pick did more than just take up space. He bumped his stats in virtually every category with 49 tackles, three sacks, four tackles for loss and eight QB hits. Kerr and McGill offered occasional bursts, combining for 4.5 sacks, six tackles for loss and 13 QB hits.

But the defensive front contributed to work against the run that, once again, was substandard. The Colts ranked 30th in yards per game allowed (120.4) and 27th in yards per attempt (4.7).

While there’s generally a cause-and-effect slant when considering the effectiveness of a team’s run defense in wins and losses – fatter totals in losses, meager numbers in wins – the contrast with the Colts is marked. Indy allowed 146.9 yards in the eight losses, 93.9 in the eight wins.

In the two crippling losses to Houston, the defense limited Brock Osweiler to 416 passing yards but yielded 343 yards on 69 rushing attempts. In three of the last four games, the Colts allowed at least 182 yards on the ground.

Looking ahead: An offseason upgrade might begin with an addition-by-subtraction move. Jones’ injury-plagued three-year stint with the team – he missed 31 of a possible 48 regular-season games – could end with him being released. He’s due to count $7.35 million against the salary cap, including a $6.25 million base salary, and the team can free up more than $5 million by terminating his contract.

While management undoubtedly will look to bring in a player or two through free agency or the draft – a true difference-making talent would be nice – the biggest boost might come from within. Complete recoveries from Langford and Anderson are critical. Also, Ridgeway should benefit from extensive playing time as a rookie. The fourth-round draft pick’s playing time increased as the season unfolded, as did his productivity. Ridgeway finished with 23 tackles, 1.5 sacks, five QB hits and two tackles for a loss.

Offseason priority: High.

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