INDIANAPOLIS – For the first time in his now 5 years as head coach of the Colts, Frank Reich needs a new overseer of his defense.
That’s a big deal, with Matt Eberflus now off to Chicago as the head coach of the Bears.
The Eberflus’ era is a bit complicated in Indianapolis.
He was a Chris Ballard hire for Josh McDaniels. Ballard loves this 4-man front, relying on speed and playing primarily zone defense, which the GM believes is the way to go for indoor teams.
In Indy, Eberflus coordinated a defense that ended his tenure 10th in points allowed, 2nd in takeaways and 10th against the run. It should be noted that the Colts have also benefitted from playing an average offensive schedule that ranks in the bottom third of NFL teams during the Eberflus era. A divisional slate of the Titans, Texans and Jaguars is not filled with offensive juggernauts. In the turnover department, Hall of Fame numbers put up by Darius Leonard greatly helped out that aspect to the game.
Where Eberflus’ defenses struggled came in disrupting an opposing passing game (low pressure rate and a high completion percentage allowed), making necessary adjustments within games/seasons and the development of highly invested draft picks, particularly along the defensive line.
The expectation is the Colts will want to maintain their 4-man front look, but Ballard did point out earlier this month that he liked how the use of more man coverage late in the ’21 season (finally) led to better pass defense. Ballard is open to hiring someone from outside of the Colts’ current defensive “tree.”
Candidate wise, this is a great opportunity for the Colts to go out of house and hear out differing perspectives while maintaining the strong culture instilled by Eberflus.
In-house, safeties coach Alan Williams was a DC for the Vikings in 2012 and 2013.
Externally, there are some well-accomplished defensive minds on the open market in Vic Fangio, Mike Zimmer, Brian Flores, Lovie Smith, Wink Martindale, Jim Schwartz and Kris Richard.
This job should be coveted for a couple of reasons. You have a Pro Bowl level talent at every level of the defense (DeForest Buckner, Darius Leonard and Kenny Moore). And taking this job, with Frank Reich handling the head coaching/offensive play calling duties, means you have complete control of the defense.
What should the Colts be looking for in their new defensive coordinator?
Passing Game Focus
In today’s NFL, stopping an opposing pass offense means more than stopping an opposing rush offense.
Under Eberflus, the Colts have been poor in limiting air attacks, while being a pretty sound rush D.
Despite being an annually strong run group—which should, theoretically, help set-up advantageous pass defense situations—the Colts have still been a weak defense in defending the pass.
Since Eberflus took the defense over in 2018, no NFL team has allowed a worse completion percentage to opponents (67.9 percent). When you look at the teams at the other end of that list (Patriots, Ravens, Steelers, Bills, Saints and Packers), winning has correlated with them being stingier in this area, as those teams have complied a combined record of 253-134-3 in that time.
In today’s NFL, with offenses centered more and more around making plays through the air, the Colts have offered a non-resistant pass defense, unable to disrupt timing from the front, or the back end.
This new hire needs to have a focus revolving on the pass defense. That can be at the front, in developing the litany of draft picks used along the defensive line (despite 6 defensive line draft picks in Round 1 or 2 under Eberflus, the Colts ranked 25th in pressure in his time as DC). Or at the back end, in mixing/matching coverages to fit what the pass rush needs.
Disrupting timing in the passing game really matters in today’s NFL.
And it’s something the Colts have to be better at moving forward.
Again, the core value Eberflus has drilled home of playing with effort is something the Colts would love to maintain.
But fresh ideas in the schematic world should be welcomed.
The Colts have had lingering issues with defending tight ends, quarterbacks on the perimeter and making necessary adjustment in-game.
Fresh perspective defensively (voice and message wise) can be a good thing in this defense taking another jump to a January-type level. While the Colts did take some strides defensively under Eberflus, the unit still was never viewed as one built for playoff-success, with the team winning 1 playoff game in this 4-year tenure.
The Colts need to inject some life and fire somewhere in the building and this should be viewed as an opportunity to do that.
While players never seemed to have problems playing for Eberflus, it’s not like guys were running to social media on Thursday to bemoan the loss of him as DC either.
For a team that has maintained so much staff continuity under Reich, maybe it’s time for a little new blood to get this team over the hump.
Ready To Dictate
One of the biggest accusations against an Eberflus defense was the ‘simplicity’ involved in preparing to face the unit.
That’s a bit contrarian to how Frank Reich views dictating to opponents with an aggressive and diverse offensive approach.
Treating opponents more on a week-to-week game plan specific focus is something that can aid things.
Look at the season finale loss to the Jaguars as the perfect example of the Colts failing in this.
On the first third down of the game (a 3rd-and-13), the Colts played soft coverage against the Jaguars best receiver (Marvin Jones). That conversion gave rookie Trevor Lawrence some early life to make an important third-and-long conversion. Lawrence, a 58 percent passer at the time, went on to convert all 8 of his opening drive passes and have a career afternoon in keeping the Colts out of the playoffs.
Too often the Colts allowed opposing QBs—no matter their resume—put up career days against the Indy D.
Creating a more complex scheme and dictating more often to opposing offenses is a route the Colts need to explore defensively.