Jerrell Freeman Out, Josh McNary Starting For Colts vs Eagles
After allowing 31 points to the Broncos in a Sunday night loss, the Colts’ defense has an equally daunting task this Monday night against Chip Kelly’s Eagles. And now it seems that they’ll have to do it without the iron man of their front-seven, as Jerrell Freeman has been declared out due to a hamstring injury. In his place, fellow undrafted free agent Josh McNary will get his first NFL start. So how much of a downgrade should the Colts expect at inside linebacker this week?
Since earning a starting spot amid an injured linebacking corps in 2012, Freeman has suited up every game for the Colts while playing 94% of the team’s defensive snaps. On the surface, his production is excellent: his 249 combined tackles since 2012 is seventh among inside linebackers and his 116 defensive stops rank 10th. But our grades go beyond the stat sheet and on film Freeman’s performance has been up and down. He consistently rates well in Run Stop Percentage, but missed tackles and occasional lapses at the point of attack have given him a career -7.1 run defense grade. Though he struggled at times in coverage last season, Freeman earned the second-highest pass rush grade at his position behind only NaVorro Bowman. On a team that just lost Robert Mathis for the season, the Colts are quickly running out of players who can bring pressure.
The second-year pro McNary has impressed in his limited snaps with the Colts. He joined the active roster late last season and was called in often for nickel duty, as 82% of his 134 total snaps came versus the pass. A bit bulkier than Freeman, McNary was often asked to play downhill; he blitzed on 25% of his pass defense snaps and excelled at closing in on ball-carriers after the catch. Though he allowed 16 of his 14 targets in coverage to be completed, only five of those went for first downs.
Unfortunately, this week’s test is not ideal for McNary. The Eagles excel at stretching the field horizontally, and Freeman is better suited for that sideline-to-sideline type of game. Though McNary has shown promise in his young career, Philadelphia could exploit him as a starter.