INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – As the Indianapolis Colts emerge from their bye week and take dead aim on what could be a defining meeting with the Houston Texans Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium, it’s worth pausing and considering a couple of their young defensive ends.
One is going. That would be Kemoko Turay. The 2018 second-round draft pick suffered a season-ending ankle injury while sacking Patrick Mahomes late in the 19-13 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
One is coming on. That needs to be Ben Banogu, who figures to be among those who must fill Turay’s void in pass-rush situations.
A closer look:
Time to heal
Turay wasn’t a pre-med major at Rutgers and didn’t need that type of background to realize something was very wrong. With less than 2 minutes remaining and the Chiefs facing a third-and-goal at the Indy 8, he bore in from the right side, spun inside left tackle Cameron Erving and continued to pursue Mahomes for a sack that essentially sealed the upset at Arrowhead.
Instead of jumping up and celebrating, Turay remained on the ground. He grabbed a right ankle that not only was throbbing, but pointing at an unnatural angle.
“I knew when it happened,’’ he said Thursday. “When I made the sack, I saw my (ankle) in the other direction. I panicked. I was like, ‘My leg isn’t supposed to be like that.’
“The trainers rushed in and it was just shock. I was in shock when he snapped it back in place . . . I didn’t feel a thing. It was just surprising to me. ‘Why did this happen to me?’ It’s what every individual player says when he gets hurt, ‘Why me? Why me? Why me?’’’
Turay underwent surgery to repair a torn deltoid ligament and fracture to his right ankle. He was at his locker room cubicle Thursday with a cast on his lower right leg. It was wrapped in Colts blue, which matched the tips of his hair.
During a give-and-take with the media, Turay insisted the ankle injury was just a temporary setback. He anticipates making a full recovery, although that won’t happen in time for a return this season.
“I was down about it at first,’’ he said. “I’m just trying to stay positive about it. Goals don’t stop. Just constantly trying to stay on track and not feel sorry for myself. I’m not alone. I talk to the GM (Chris Ballard). I talk to everybody.
“Kansas City Chiefs was the end of my (2019) journey, but the journey still continues. I’m going to constantly come to the building and constantly work my butt off. Y’all will constantly see me in the locker room. Just trying to get bigger, stronger.’’
The unexpected and unwanted hiatus also will allow Turay to address a neck injury that had been plaguing him.
Turay was showing signs of being the consistent pass-rush threat Ballard envisioned when he used the third of his four 2018 second-round picks on the athletic, rangy talent out of Rutgers. He had 1.5 sacks and shared the team lead with 5 quarterback hits. He was credited with one-half sack and 3 hits on Mahomes at Kansas City.
There were flashes from Turay as a rookie: 4 sacks and a team-high 13 QB hits in 14 games.
Losing a pass-rush complement was “very difficult,’’ Justin Houston said. “He was a very athletic rusher. He was coming into his own.
“He makes awkward plays in awkward positions and . . . he’s a great rusher. I think we were starting to gel, starting to learn each other. I’m sorry that happened to him.’’
Turay insisted he’s down, but not for long.
“I’m not going to let anything interfere, no bad, negative vibes,’’ he said. “It’s going to be all good vibes.
“Constantly trying to stay positive and psyche myself in a positive way . . . this is time for me to get stronger, get better.’’
Time to step up
One player’s misfortune is another player’s opportunity. In this case, that means Ben Banogu, a second-round pick in the April draft.
“Ben’s got some shoes to fill,’’ Houston said. “I think he can do it.’’
The initial plan involved allowing Banogu to work at SAM linebacker. However, the coaching staff reconsidered. Everyone remembered what attracted them to the 6-3, 252-pounder in the first place – 22 sacks, 49 tackles for loss in 40 starts at TCU – and decided to move him to end.
“At TCU, they asked me to rush the passer and sack the quarterback,’’ Banogu said. “Here, they ask me to rush the passer and sack the quarterback.’’
He paused and laughed.
“It’s pretty much the same concept,’’ he said. “Everyone runs different schemes, but the concept of defensive end and disrupting the offense is all the same.’’
Banogu has had to deal with the normal rookie growing pains. He’s appeared in all five games, but his playing time has been hit-and-miss: 34 of a possible 348 defensive snaps. It’s ranged from a high of 27 in the opening overtime loss to the Los Angeles Chargers to zero at Kansas City, when his only time on the field was four special-teams snaps.
He’s been credited with five tackles, one-half sack and two QB hits.
The biggest lesson he’s learned as a rookie?
“I would say never get too high or too low on yourself,’’ he said. “You go through a long season. It’s definitely longer than a college football season. It’s not so much the physical part. It’s more the mental part.’’
That even-keel approach has been instrumental in the daily grind.
“Going through practice and some days you’re on, some days you’re off,’’ Banogu said. “Just like in games, some days you’re on and some days you’re a little off.
“So it’s just trying to find that balance of, ‘What can I take out of this? What can I take that’s good, and what can I take that’s bad? How can I help re-enforce that exponential growth in my game.’’’
Sunday’s the time
The Colts’ pass rush reasserted itself against the Chiefs. It got to Mahomes for 4 sacks and another 8 hits. That came after going sack-less in the previous two games.
More of the same is needed against the Texans and quarterback Deshaun Watson. He’s emerged as a viable MVP candidate on the strength of 1,644 yards, 12 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 107.9 passer rating.
What’s allowing Watson to maximize his diverse skills is greatly improved pass protection. After allowing 18 sacks in the first four games, the Texans haven’t allowed a sack in the last two. They’ve only given up 3 QB hits in wins over the Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons.
It’s the first time in Watson’s 29-game career he’s not been sacked in consecutive games. Overall, he’s absorbed a staggering 90 sacks, including a league-high 66 in 2018.
Houston is looking to establish a team record Sunday at Lucas Oil. It has never had three consecutive games without allowing a sack.
For those wondering, the Colts have faced Watson three times, including the playoffs, and gotten to him for 15 sacks.
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