The Indianapolis Colts’ defense has been on a hot streak in recent weeks, as they’ve climbed up to a top 10 defense in football according to DVOA numbers. They faced a fairly tough task though heading into Sunday as the Cowboys’ entered the game with the NFL’s leading rusher in Ezekiel Elliott and one of the better receivers in football in Amari Cooper. Even with the Cowboys having these two marquee players, the Colts were able to shut down the Cowboys offense and it all started with the big guys up front.
The Cowboys simply had no answers for the Colts defense as they were shut down in all aspects of the game. Elliott was held under 100 yards for only the seventh time this entire season. Dak Prescott only managed 206 yards passing and 0 rushing yards while being sacked three times. Cooper was held to just 32 yards receiving on just four catches. Just a smothering effort all around by the defense.
This piece is part two of two in a film room series dedicated to the Colts dominating the trenches this past Sunday. The defensive line of Denico Autry, Margus Hunt, Tyquan Lewis, and Jabaal Sheard has been playing lights out of late and this game was no exception. Lets jump into the film to see how well these guys really played.
In the first run of the game the Colts’ defensive line is able to get a ton of penetration. The play all around isn’t this dominating rep but it set the tone for the rest of the game. The entire defensive line from Hunt to Al- Quadin Muhammad is able to get up field and past their blockers. Obviously they didn’t get the stop because it was an outside run but by beating their single blocks and double teams, the linebackers were left free to make the stop. Good gang tackle by Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker to end the play. Also notice Sheard crush the tight end who tries to block him on the left side.
The Colts were able to get pressure even rushing just four guys on Sunday. Autry gets the initial pressure up the middle as he drives the center right back into the lap of Prescott. Hunt does a stunt with Muhammad who is able to drive the guard back into Prescott’s lap as well. Hunt and Sheard keep Prescott in the pocket by keeping outside contain. This great interior rush by Autry and Muhammad leads to Prescott having to find his check down much sooner than he would like.
This next play is won in the trenches from the snap of the ball. Both Grover Stewart and Hunt get an excellent push into the backfield to disrupt the run. Muhammad takes on the tight end block in the hole in order to free up the linebacker. The star of the play though is Leonard as this is a marvelous run fit by him. Displaying insane quickness and play recognition, Leonard is able to beat Elliott to the hole and stuff the run for no gain. Hunt also gets partial credit for the tackle as he sheds his blocker and also hits Elliott in the hole.
The Colts didn’t just dominate the trenches on defense, they also did on special teams. Showing great hustle and determination, the Colts are able to get the blocked field goal early in the game to preserve the shut out. Excellent job by Autry to fight through the double team up the middle and get a hand on this kick. Also a shout out to Muhammad as he nearly breaks through on the left side for the block as well. This rep is just all heart though by the guys up front and it took the Cowboys’ soul out of the game early on.
On top of holding Elliott under 100 yards for the day, the Colts also were effective rushing the passer on Sunday. Rookie defensive end Tyquan Lewis notched the first two sacks of his career on Sunday and was disruptive rushing the passer all day. This rep is nothing special as the Cowboys only ran two receivers out on initial routes while the Colts only rushed four. Lewis does a nice job of keeping his legs moving and not giving up on the play, as he fights through blocks and gets the sack. Muhammad also had a decent rush on the outside which forced Prescott to step up a bit in the pocket.
This next play may have been the play of the game for the defense. The Cowboys had all the momentum right here as they just drove effortlessly down the field and were within five yards of their first score of the day. They just suffered from a big drop on the play before but have a fourth and one with arguably the best running back in football. Seems like an easy conversion right?
Well Margus Hunt had different plans. He explodes through the line of scrimmage and is able to stop the flow of the play by contacting Elliott behind the line of scrimmage. Matthew Adams sets a hard edge on the outside forcing the run back inside and a combination of Hunt, Adams, and Pierre Desir are able to bring down Elliott for a loss. Game changing play by the defense.
The Cowboys tried to get the screen game going after a couple of scoreless drives but the Colts are ready for it. The play is mostly blown up by Sheard just dropping the right tackle on a nice bull rush and forcing Prescott out of the pocket. Autry recognizes the screen as well as he also slows up his rush and stays in the lane of the potential pass to Elliott. Sheard ends the rep by registering a QB hit on Prescott as he throws the ball away. Another play shut down by the Colts’ defensive line.
I love the scheme up front on this next play and it really shows how far Matt Eberflus has come since the start of the season. Gone are the days of vanilla zone coverage as even when Eberflus isn’t blitzing, he draws up a stunt like this. Here the tackles both line up at end and the ends line up inside. Hunt and Autry stunt inside to their normal positions as Lewis and Sheard stunt back to the outside. The Cowboys’ line is confused by the movement up front, Prescott drops his eyes, and the result is another Lewis sack. Gold star to Eberflus for this stunt play.
Another quick pressure by the Colts forcing Prescott to find his checkdown. The key to success for the Colts this season has been to limit big plays and keep everything in front of them. The Cowboys— knowing this— tried all day to hit the deep ball. They simply couldn’t make that big play though because of quick pressures like this one from Hunt. In the most perfect example of a stunt play gone right, Sheard absolutely annihilates rookie Connor Williams— welcome to the NFL rookie— as Hunt is able to twist outside untouched for the near sack. Pressures all day like this one made Prescott come to his checkdowns much sooner than he wanted to.
This next rep is excellent run gap discipline up front by the entire defense. Stewart takes on the double team very well and is able to hold his ground in the middle of the play. Both Hunt and Muhammad do a nice job of staying home and making sure Elliott doesn’t have a cut back lane. Leonard and Lewis both clog up the main rushing lane. Every single hole or gap to escape from is clogged up by the defense and Elliott is forced to just take what he can get and go forward on the play. Great disciplined and aware defense here by the entire front.
Late in the game is where these pass rushers really succeed, when they can pin their ears back and get after the passer. Both Sheard and Autry have excellent rushes on this play to disrupt the passing play. Autry fires through the A-gap and is too quick for the center who is forced to just hold Autry to prevent the sack. Sheard is able to get under the block attempt of the right tackle and bend around the corner and also nearly comes up with the sack. The result again is Prescott having to quickly find his checkdown in the area of the field where the Colts are confident their guys can make a tackle.
Last clip of the day is another highlight reel play by the Pro-Bowl alternate Autry. Autry is way too quick inside for most guards in this league to handle one on one. Throw in that he’s quite strong and fairly polished as a rusher and you’ve got a Pro-Bowl caliber player. Here, Autry initially starts inside and gets the guard to set up there. Autry then throws him off balance with a strong right hand and then is able to fight up field for the sack on the play. What an impressive play to cap off a dominant shut out by this surging, young defense.
What a performance from a group that is continually getting stronger each and every week. Tyquan Lewis had the game of his young career as he was able to notch his first two sacks. Margus Hunt was his typical mountain moving self and Jabaal Sheard made so many plays that won’t show up in the stat sheet. The real star however is Denico Autry as he now has 6 sacks and 1 blocked kick in his last three games. He is playing as well as any defensive lineman in football right now.
Matt Eberflus also deserves so much credit for this defense’s turnaround. He has transformed a young, inexperienced defense into one of the more aggressive and fun teams in football. He really has expanded his defensive playbook and it is truly impressive that he was able to coach his guys to a shut out of his former team.
Overall this game was won against the Cowboys by the Colts dominating the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Chris Ballard’s dream of a physical bully of a team is starting to truly take form. Hopefully the young defense can keep up their strong play this upcoming week as rookie sensation Saquon Barkley and the Giants come to town.