Alright, so, normally at this time I would write about this upcoming game. But I posted a poll on Twitter asking which should I do this week.
#1 Do my normal breakdown this week of the game against the New York Giants?
#2 Breakdown the evolution of how this defense has turned around since week 7?
Seems right now there is a 60% lean towards #2, So here it is.
The turn around on this defense has many parts, and it didn't start week 7. Nor did it start in the preseason, or even the draft. No this started when Cris Ballard signed Josh McDaniels. (Yeah him)
When Ballard sign McDaniels, The then current head coach for a day hired some assistants. Dave DeGuglielmo (Guj), Mike Phair, and Matt Eberflus, to name a few. The last one is one we're going to need to remember here.
The Very next day Josh McDaniels left Ballard and the Indianapolis Colts at the alter -so to speak- and retracted the engagement. Forcing Ballard to look elsewhere while having these coaches already on the payroll.
Ballard then hired Frank Reich, and in their combined wisdom decided to keep the previously hired assistants. This is a big deal down the stretch.
Now I'm not going to go into detail over the Free Agency, or the draft. That is a different story, but let's just say Ballard, Reich, and Eberflus got the guys for their scheme, and who fit the type of players on and off the field they wanted.
Through training camp and preseason, they got a look at how the scheme and the players worked together, but they never really got a great look because they were basically facing each other every day. Even preseason games were not often 1's vrs 1's. Mostly guys fighting to win a spot on the 53 man roster. Basically coaches weeding out guys who don't put enough effort in and don't fit their mold.
Jump to the regular season.
To begin the season, the Colts now have fourteen 1st year players, 10 second year players, a rookie head coach, rookie offensive coordinater, and a rookie defensive co-ordinater. With an entirely new scheme, that this team (for the most part) has never used. And all these new players, and new coaches have yet to see play against real starting opponents an entire game. Needless to say, even though they had been around each other for a few months, they really did not know each others strength's and weakness' vs. another teams players/coaching.
The first couple weeks go by, and we saw this team perform at high and low's. There was obvious mistakes. Rookie mistakes, scheme mistakes, and coaching mistakes. A lot of this due to the fact that the new players and coaches had yet to really feel each other out.
The run defense up to this point was pretty good though. For the most part (other than 1 hiccup against New England) This defense was holding RB's to less than 4 YPC, and getting to the QB's with a lot of stunts, and other schemed play for the defensive line. But Eberflus was sticking to his guns about only wanting to rush 4. Being the least blitzing defense in the NFL to this point.
Then the Jet's game happened week 6. This defense made a rookie QB who had been struggling for the most part, up until then, look like a seasoned pro. He went 24/30 280 yards and 2 TD's. This was the last straw for the Colts leaders in the locker room.
The Colts leaders on the field, and the locker room, held a player's only meeting after that game. None of the players have came out and said exactly what was talked about, but it obviously had an effect on how this team has prepared and played the rest of the season.
The timing of this meeting was also fortuitous. Because, while the players were discussing how to be better professionals on the field, Matt Eberflus now had 6 weeks of watching game film and seeing his players at work. He had a better feel for the strength's and weakness' of his players, and could better scheme for them. And make play call's that would put his players into favorable positions. This also had given these rookies time now to adjust to the speed of the NFL. They were better equipped to react faster and with more confidence in their decisions.
The next week was the opening chapter for this new and improved defense,..and it showed. The Bills are not a powerhouse by any means, but to hold a season veteran QB (granted it was Derek Anderson) to 20/31 175 total yards, 3 int's and 0 TD's, is a good step to take.
Remember when I said the timing of the meeting was fortuitous? There was another reason for it. The next few weeks this team would be playing a couple of the weaker offenses in the NFL stat wise. This was absolutely imperative. This allowed the players to fully buy into the new scheme, get used to it, and just play on reaction rather than having to think. They kept doing well, gaining confidence after each win.
Then the first REAL test came for this new, confident defense. The Titans came to Indy. This is a team with a really good run game and a mobile QB. Eberflus also had noticed the previous couple games that his front 4 was not providing the pressure he wanted on a consistent basis He decided to go against his grain in this game, and bring a few more blitzes than normal to try to get pressure on Mariota. Boy did it work! And it worked two fold. Not only did the defense end that game with 5 sacks, they knocked Mariota out of the game. Making Gabbert finish at QB. The defense ended up allowing a measly total of 203 yards passing, 1 TD and 2 Ints. While the run D continued to do it's job, giving up just 71 yards to the RB's.
The blitzing not only allowed the defense to get pressure, but it allowed the DB's to jump on ball's. They did not have to watch their assigned receivers run entire routes. They could watch the QB now, knowing he was under pressure and wanted to dump it faster than he wanted. This allows DB's to watch and react, rather than follow their assignments all over the field, and tiring them out as the game went on. Because of the two fold bonus of the added blitzes, Eberflus has now penciled them in as a regular staple to his defensive scheme.
The games continued to get tough, and more demanding week to week. The Texans, then the Cowboys. But now Eberflus knew his players. Players bought into this new scheme.Together, he began calling plays, and they were executing these plays with the confidence in each other that was lacking at the beginning of the season.
They just capped off their last win with perhaps the best defensive game of the season,..blanking the hottest team in the NFL. Right before that, going to the hottest team prior, the 9-win streak Texans. Beating them in their own house.
The zone defensive scheme depends on that front seven's ability to create pressure on the QB, and stop the run. And through 9 months of a step by step process, and a few learning bumps on the way, they are now doing it. The Indianapolis Colts have became the #1 defense since that players meeting, after the Jets game week 6.
(Special Thank You to my wonderful wife Kim. For proof-reading and editing for me)