INDIANAPOLIS – The seismic shift had the Colts hoping and wanting to play as many young defenders as possible, in order to gain that valuable experience early in careers.
For Matt Eberflus, that goal was largely accomplished in 2018 and 2019.
On Monday, Eberflus met the media for the first time this offseason to go over a busy few months for his unit.
What were some of the highlights from Eberflus meeting the media?
–On closing out games better: “First and foremost, the most important thing is the pass rush. I think with the addition of DeForest Buckner, Justin Houston, getting healthy (Kemoko) Turay in there, that will speed the quarterback up and we’ll have an opportunity to close out games with our pass rush.”
Bowen’s Analysis: The Colts do need more consistent pass rush from their defensive front. And the addition of DeForest Buckner, plus a fully healthy Kemoko Turay, is what the Colts are banking on in trying to create more pressure. If the Colts can disrupt opposing quarterbacks timing more frequently, that will do wonders for a pass defense that has struggled under Eberflus.
–On the addition of veteran corner Xavier Rhodes: “We had Xavier a couple of years ago (in the 2017 Pro Bowl). I just fell in love with him in terms of his work patterns. I was amazed how the guy can move and how big he is. The guy looks like a big safety and he’s playing corner. He’s a physical, really good tackler. He’s played at a Pro Bowl level and we are excited to get him back to that point and we certainly feel great about (assistant coaches) Jonathan Gannon and Alan Williams at the back end coaching him because they have familiarity with him. We are excited about where he is. I know we feel that. I know Chris has said this as well, but we feel he has a chip on his shoulder in lieu of the circumstances and we are excited about that.”
Bowen’s Analysis: The Eberflus/Rhodes connection (albeit for just a few days at the Pro Bowl) was not something we have given much light to. But, clearly, Eberflus agreed with this decision to get a corner with some unteachable physical characteristics, who the Colts feel will be very motivated after getting waived for the first time in his career.
–On the Colts acquiring defensive tackle DeForest Buckner: “We asked the question, if we could draft ‘X’ player, or this other player at 13, or would you rather have DeForest Buckner? At least you know what you are getting with DeForest. You are getting a Pro Bowl talent, a high-level player that has dominated his position. The trickle-down effect is that whenever you have a defensive line of DeForest, Justin and different guys up front that can dominate their spot up front, it’s easier to play linebacker and easier to play in coverage because everything is sped up and the line of scrimmage is changing for the run game. There’s a lot of things that benefits from having a really good three-technique. We’ve talked about that as a franchise and it’s so important to have that…Frank and I were both in those (Buckner/trade) discussions. I had two words, yes and yes. I was excited when (Ballard) started to talk about getting DeForest and acquiring him. There was not any hesitation. When we first started talking about it early on, I went and watched a few of his games and some of the playoff games. What’s amazing to me is what he’s done in terms of the percentage of plays. We are talking about high 80s, 90 percent of play time. He just plays and he loves to play football. A couple of the guys that I know that have been around him, contacted us right after and said you have no idea what you are getting in terms of a practice player, in terms of a leader and the impact that he’s going to have on your football team. From A to Z, we were like yes, and again, yes.”
Bowen’s Analysis: Eberflus is a pretty subdued individual, but he didn’t hide his excitement in finally having a player like Buckner at such a critical spot in his defense. At the three-technique (DeForest Buckner), WILL linebacker (Darius Leonard), nickel cornerback (Kenny Moore), which are arguably the 3 most important positions in this scheme, the staff feels they have a trio of Pro Bowl caliber players.
–On Malik Hooker: “The safety position for us is a very important position to us. They do a lot of different things and they have to be versatile. When I watched Malik in practice (last year), I really saw his step in terms of his practice, in training camp I could see it, early on in the season I could see it, he really started to bust his tail and go the way we were talking about going, all of us in practice, in terms of effort, execution, playmaking. I feel that he was taking steps in the right direction. If you’ve watched him in some of those games, I refer back to some of the plays that we are watching with the players right now, the Miami game, the Denver game, the Pittsburgh game, he was really playing well at a really high level. What he has to do, and everybody else has to do, is be more consistent. If you are going to be a high-performing, All-Pro player, the consistency just has to be there. Your play in games doesn’t fall far from practice…”
Bowen’s Analysis: Whenever Eberflus has been asked about a defensive player who hasn’t reached a level of expected play, he usually references it back to practice. He does that here with Hooker. On Monday, Eberflus was also asked about Julian Blackmon and what attracted the defensive coordinator to the versatile defensive back. Eberflus pointed to Blackmon’s knack for finding the ball/creating turnovers, ability to line up at multiple spots and the high character/effort standard that he plays and practices to as all reasons why this pick was made.
–On replacing veteran defensive end Jabaal Sheard by using Denico Autry and Tyquan Lewis outside: “There’s been some talk about that and I certainly agree that it’s something we should look at, and something we are looking at. We will see how that plays out. But that’s certainly a big thought for us. That’s kind of what Autry and Tyquan did before. They have both done that. They’ve both played left and right end and inside. Having players like that, is a good thing for that.”
Bowen’s Analysis: This is something I’ve brought up on numerous occasions this offseason, as we saw the Colts sit back from making any move at defensive end. As Eberflus says, both Autry and Lewis have experience playing D-end, especially early in downs. Eberflus mentioned that the Colts are hoping to have 4 defensive tackles rotating in and out, so that’ll be interesting to see how that ultimtealy shakes out with Buckner, Sheldon Day, Grovert Stewart, Rob Windsor, and then Autry and Lewis.