Freeney has registered a sack in each of his first seven games, but the buzz surrounds Jared Allen, Elvis Dumervil, and even Antwan Odom, who is currently on injured reserve. Allen and Dumervil currently lead Freeney in sacks, but there is a three-way tie between Odom, Freeney, and Pittsburgh's James Harrison for the next spot in the pecking order at eight sacks apiece.
How is it possible for Freeney, who has 79 sacks since he came into the league in 2002 and has been to four Pro Bowls, to fly under the radar? It's possible that Freeney has been so good for so long that the general public tends to overlook him, even though he finished second among defensive ends in sacks and went to Hawaii in 2008.
It's possible that the presence of Robert Mathis tends to divert some of the attention due to Freeney to other members of the defensive line. Mathis did make the Pro Bowl as well in 2008, after all. "That's the mentality around here," Freeney said after a Week 8 victory over the 49ers. "Defensive line, linebackers, safeties, corners, the defense in general. We want to be out there, making the big plays when it counts. Put everything on our shoulders, that's our mentality."
Freeney has a sack in eight consecutive games, tying the club record set by Mathis. He's is one game short of tying Bruce Smith (1986-87) and Kevin Greene (1997-98) for the third-longest streak in NFL history. Simon Fletcher (1992-93) and DeMarcus Ware (2007-08) share the NFL mark with 10 consecutive games with a sack.
Given the success he's had over the course of his career in getting to the quarterback, it is surprising that this eight game stretch represents the biggest sack roll that he has been on thus far.
He has a low center of gravity at six feet tall, which gives him an immediate advantage over the vast majority of left tackles in the league, who stand at 6-foot-5 or taller. That lower center of gravity allows him to attack those tackles at a lower point, where they are still strong, but nowhere near as potent as they are in their upper body.
Freeney is a squatly-built player and a great deal of his power comes from his thick lower body, which gives him the ability to push and drive taller tackles towards the quarterback.
From there, he is free to use the full complement of moves at his disposal. He has an exceptional swim move, which allows him to break free of the tackle's body and pursue the quarterback. He has a very effective spin move which can get him out of trouble should the larger tackle engulf him.
If nothing else, he can use his explosive first step and rare speed to run around the tackle and get to his target. It is this versatility that has allowed him continued success in a league that tends to chew up and spit out pure speed rushers in a cycle of 3-5 years.
There is no doubt that Freeney is a gifted pass rusher, both from an athletic ability standpoint and a technique standpoint. But, his success so far this season may stem from the fact that he has feasted a lineup of left tackles that are young and high on ability, but low on technique.
When facing a young tackle, he tends to fall back on his superior technique and assume that he will eventually prevail through superior tactics and a high motor. He uses his athleticism, no doubt, as does any NFL player, but his key advantage in a matchup like this is his experience.
He faces such a matchup on Sunday against the athletically gifted but technically challenged Duane Brown of the Texans. Expect him to have the usual amount of success against a favorable matchup and extend his streak. But, the challenge in extending his streak and establishing himself as one of the premiere quarterback killers in league history lies in his remaining schedule.
He draws Brown again in Week 12, the massive, but green, Jared Gaither in Week 11, and the offensive line challenged Bills and Jaguars in Weeks 15 and 17, respectively. But, he also has Michael Roos of the Titans in Week 13, though he has already bested him; Matt Light, who has been like kryptonite historically for Freeney, in Week 10; the highly talented Ryan Clady in Week 14; and former fourth overall selection D'Brickashaw Ferguson in Week 16.
It's obviously extremely difficult to keep a run like this going. Otherwise Freeney — or a similarly talented rush end — would have a longer streak. The fact remains that the schedule looks very tasty for a hungry Dwight Freeney.
"I eat, sleep, drink getting after the quarterback. I dream about them and have flashbacks in the middle of eating breakfast," Freeney said. "That's me."
For Colts fans, that is a taste of things to come in 2009.
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