On Robert Mathis without Dwight Freeney

Last week in an "Eight in the Box" post he did while I was on vacation, ESPN.com’s resident scout Matt Williamson cited a lack of difference-makers on the Colts' defense as an issue.

In that, Williamson said this about Robert Mathis:

Dwight Freeney, now in San Diego, isn’t what he once was, but he was a formidable presence off the edge. Robert Mathis has always been a very fine player, but he has benefited from Freeney’s presence.”

That was hardly an insult of Mathis, but reader @tonystoney25 pointed it out to Mathis, saying “someone believes that Robert only benefited from Freeney & can't cause havoc by himself.”

To Mathis’ credit, he replied:

The Colts wouldn’t, by design, line up for many pass-rush snaps without both edge rushers on the field when they were both available. Freeney missed five regular-season games in the past five years.

I asked Khaled Elsayed of Pro Football Focus what he could share about how many of Mathis’ sacks came with Freeney on the field.

PFF counts half sacks as full sacks, and its sack numbers don’t always match up with the league’s, as it finds the NFL a little generous.

These numbers also include the postseason.

2008 -- 14 of Mathis' 14 sacks came with Freeney on the field

2009 -- 8 of 10

2010 -- 6 of 10

2011 -- 9 of 10

2012 -- 5 of 9

That’s 79.2 percent of Mathis’ sacks in the past five years with Freeney also on field. (In all, Freeney was on the field for 73.3 percent of Mathis’ plays.)

On the other side of the equation, Freeney got 76 percent of his sacks with Mathis on the field.

Mathis and Freeney certainly benefited from each other’s presence. They were the heart of the Colts’ defensive identity for a long time.

The Colts' pass rush beyond Mathis is a question mark heading into this season -- reliant on first-rounder Bjoern Werner and a bunch of new defensive linemen to contribute and draw some attention from Mathis.

But Mathis is flipping from the strongside outside linebacker position to the spot Freeney had last year -- the rush outside linebacker spot. They guy’s got a tremendous motor and, as evidenced by his tweet, wants to quiet critics who think he’s somehow a product of playing with Freeney.

I don’t believe he was.