INDIANAPOLIS – Together, the trio of positions form a triangle that Matt Eberflus considers the epicenter of the Colts defense.
Eberflus calls it a ‘reverse’ triangle, with the three-technique defensive tackle, WILL linebacker and nickel cornerback positions accounting for the three points of the triangle.
“That helps you to be a strong defense and that is what we are wanting to be,” Eberflus says.
In his 4-3 defense, with core principles built around effort, an attacking style in the front and zone concepts, the third-year defensive coordinator believes the triangle’s “hot spots” are finally at an adequate level.
DeForest Buckner (Three-Technique Defensive Tackle)
“The 3-technique is the engine that drives the d-line and it drives the whole defense,” Eberflus says. “There are a lot of things that are beneficial in having a really good 3-technique. I know that we have talked about that as a franchise.”
Even during the 2019 season, the Colts were extremely frustrated with the lack of disruptive plays they received from this spot (think more of the pass rushing defensive tackle position).
Chris Ballard mentioned at the end of 2019 what needed to change defensively.
“We’ve got to be able to get some more interior pressure,” the GM said. “The 3-technique drives this thing. It does. Every time I’ve been part of this (defense), the 3-technique drives this.”
It was a ‘very easy’ trade in Ballard’s eyes for DeForest Buckner, a guy who has been one of the most disruptive defensive tackles in the league since 2016.
At 6-7 and 300 pounds, Buckner must provide a presence that is making things unruly in the middle of the opposing offensive lines.
Interior pressure is a nuisance to quarterbacks. Creating more of that is a huge reason why Buckner is here.
“The 3-tech is a big part of this defense, especially in the run game, holding up on those double teams, keeping your linebackers clean, (so) they can run free and make more tackles,” Buckner says. “Also in the pass game, you get some 1-on-1 opportunities that you can really take advantage of.
“When you have a really good, dominant 3-tech that can split double teams in the run game, or even when you can get that (disruption) in the pass game, split the double teams, and be effective in both aspects of the game, it’s a game changer for a defense, as a whole. The rest of the d-line benefits, the back end benefits from it and obviously the team does. It’s a big role, a lot of responsibility and a key position on D.”
Darius Leonard (WILL Linebacker)
While trying to replicate the Tampa 2 defense from the Buccaneers of the 2000s, think of Buckner as Warren Sapp, and Leonard as Derrick Brooks.
“If you watch Darius and you look and see where he is, he is standing over the football pretty much every time,” Eberflus says. “The MIKE sometimes gets pulled out of there, but that WILL linebacker for us, and the way we have it set up, stands over the football. So we have a premier impact player right there that is in the middle, along with a 3-technique in DeForest that is also right in the middle.”
Leonard has defined the word ‘playmaker’ in his two NFL seasons.
Lining up directly behind the 3-technique, the WILL linebacker benefits from being off the ball and operating in free space early in a play.
While Ballard wants the Colts to create more big plays defensively, that’s no blame on Leonard who is going above and beyond those duties.
Kenny Moore (Nickel Cornerback)
Moore means so much to the Colts that he starts as an outside cornerback in their base defense.
But his best position is in the slot, at the nickel position.
“Kenny is the athletic player that is in space, that has the quickness, that strike and playmaking ability,” Eberflus says.
Whether it’s as a blitzing slot, helping out in the run game on the perimeter, or reading and anticipating things in a zone look, Moore’s instincts and soundness to his game makes him a valuable component.
If you want to know how the Colts view Moore, just remember the 4-year, $33 million extension that Ballard gave him last June.
“I think he’s the best nickel in the league, for what he does,” Ballard says. “I think time will prove me right on that. I think he’s a real special player.”