The scheme changed but the grand plan didn’t.
As 3-4 outside linebackers in Chuck Pagano’s new front as opposed to the 4-3 that had long been in place, they’d come from less predictable places. That would make stopping them even more difficult.
But Freeney and Mathis have started just two games together. Freeney suffered a high ankle sprain early in the season opener, missed two games and hasn’t really looked like he’s back to form since.
Mathis sprained his right knee against the Packers and has missed the two ensuing games, though he returned to practice for at least some work today.
“You take the two premier players out and leave half of one, it’s obviously not going to be the same,” interim Colts coach Bruce Arians said of playing at time with just a limited strength Freeney instead of a full strength Freeney-Mathis combo.
The Titans and Matt Hasselbeck would be especially wary of the duo under any circumstances.
For this game it could be even a bigger issue.
Mike Otto is a veteran backup to Michael Roos, who had his appendix removed Monday. Roos hopes to keep his consecutive start streak of 119 alive, but said if he can't he can't.
Hand and knee injuries mean Otto hasn’t played yet this season, and could have his hands more than full if he’s subbing in his first work of the year.
The team just re-signed him in the offseason as its third tackle. In five seasons since he was a seventh-rounder out of Purdue, he's played in 41 games with two starts.
As he’s from Kokomo, Ind. and attended Purdue, he was plenty familiar with Freeney before he joined an AFC South team.
“Dwight Freeney is a special, special talent,” Otto said after Wednesday’s practice. “I’ve been watching him play for a very long time. When I was growing up in Indiana, I was watching the Colts, watching Freeney pass-rush, that’s kind of what you do.”
Otto went down briefly during practice causing a brief scare. Hasselbeck joked that in the past it would barely have registered. This time, for a short time, it certainly did.