DENVER – Wearing a Yankees cap as he made his way to the team bus, Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney is talking hardball. As in the methods that opponents are using to keep him from getting anywhere close to the quarterback. Double teams are routine. Triple teams are not unheard of.
That might explain why Freeney is mired in one of the worst slumps since Dodger Gil Hodges had New Yorkers fretting in the 1950s.
"It's bad, man," Freeney said, his accent thick with disappointment. "It's a stat position, I know that. But sometimes you don't get the stats and everybody is wondering why, asking all the time, 'What's wrong?'"
Through seven games, Freeney has a half sack and a paltry nine tackles. He got the partial sack Sunday during the Colts' dramatic win at Denver and it came at a key time. Freeney and linebacker Gary Brackett combined to get to Denver quarterback Jake Plummer and forced a fumble early in the third quarter. That was the only turnover of the game and set up a touchdown three plays later that gave Indianapolis a 20-14 lead.
But that play is clearly not enough to make Freeney feel he's back on track after setting an amazing standard over his first four seasons. During that time, Freeney had 51 sacks, including at least 11 each season.
"People who understand the game know what's going on," Freeney said. "But it's frustrating because everybody is used to seeing the stats."
It did help that Denver coach Mike Shanahan went to Freeney after the game to give him some confidence-boosting praise.
"He came up to me and said, 'You're a great player, we had to really work to stop you,'" Freeney recalled.
At almost no time did the Broncos give Freeney a one-on-one opportunity. On the rare occasion they did, it was usually on a play where Freeney had no chance to get to Plummer.
"I don't know, maybe eight [one-on-one blocks] and those were when they ran a three-step drop and got rid of it," Freeney said.
Still, what Denver did to stop Freeney is typical.
"Teams are doing things to just completely take him out of the mix," Colts coach Tony Dungy said. "We'll have to find some answers for what they're doing, but it's all the time.
"Denver doubled him all the time and kept the tight end in a lot of the time to help, which is pretty unusual for them."
Adding to Freeney's eagerness to turn things around, he is set to be an unrestricted free agent after this season. The Colts make it policy not to negotiate during the season, so Freeney will at least end the season without a new contract.
Will this slump hurt him? If history is any indication, it will be only a small point of discussion.
Freeney's agent, Gary Wichard, went through the same issue with Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor when Taylor hit unrestricted free agency after the 2000 season. At the time, the Dolphins brought up the fact that Taylor had only 2½ sacks in 1999.
Wichard's counter was that even with the poor third season, Taylor's overall numbers ranked with the best in the game over a similar period. Taylor ended up getting a six-year, $42 million contract, one of the league's most lucrative contracts for an end at the time.
From that perspective, Wichard has plenty of leverage even if Freeney doesn't get another sack the rest of the season. Freeney's first four seasons rank with the likes of Bruce Smith and Pro Football Hall of Famer Reggie White.
Still, going without a sack the rest of the season might drive Freeney crazy.