INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts' defense took substantial leaps under first-year defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus in 2018.
The unit, which finished 11th overall in defense this season, shut down the likes of Dallas' Ezekiel Elliott, NFL Rookie of the Year Saquon Barkley (Giants), Tennessee's Derrick Henry and Washington's Adrian Peterson. The Colts didn't allow a 100-yard rusher until their playoff game in Kansas City.
The task of being even better defensively next season will be tougher, because instead of facing some of the league’s top rushers, the Colts will face some future Hall of Fame quarterbacks -- including this season's league MVP.
The best way to slow those quarterbacks down?
Having a pass rush.
The Colts got a significant amount of pressure using stunts, as they finished tied for 19th in the NFL with 38 sacks. Twenty-two of those sacks came in four games alone. They had five games in which they didn't record a sack.
Pass-rushers are arguably the second-most important players outside of quarterbacks, and the Colts lack a player whom an opposing quarterback is looking for at the line of scrimmage before the snap. Defensive lineman Denico Autry led the Colts with 9.0 sacks, followed by rookie linebacker Darius Leonard's 7.0. There were 22 players with at least 10 sacks in the NFL this season.
The most alarming stat is the Colts were just 21st in the league in sacks per pass attempt at 7.0 percent, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
"The pass rush is always going to be a cornerstone for us," Colts general manager Chris Ballard said last month.
Looking at more than $100 million in salary-cap space, you would think it would be easy for the Colts to go out and just sign a pass-rusher. It's the opposite, in fact, because teams value their pass-rushers and don't often let them get away in free agency.
That means it wouldn't surprising if the likes of Kansas City's Dee Ford, Houston's Jadeveon Clowney and Dallas' DeMarcus Lawrence are wearing the same uniforms next season because they re-sign with their current teams or the franchise tag is placed on them.
Ballard won't leave any stone unturned when it comes to trying to find some pass-rushers. The Colts have the 26th pick in the April draft, and defensive line is one of the deeper positions in it, according to NFL front office officials. ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had 11 defensive linemen selected in the first round of his most recent mock draft.
Robert Mathis was the last impactful pass-rusher the Colts had -- he recorded 19.5 sacks way back in the 2013 season.
"In this league, when you can have a dominant rusher that the other team really has to, on Monday, come in and game plan for -- and really more than one, to me, you want two or three along the front," Ballard recently said on a radio interview on Indianapolis' WFNI-1070 AM. "That would be the No. 1 priority in my mind going forward."