The 2018 Indianapolis Colts are a much different team than any of us could have expected through three games. The defense is playing at a very high level led by the dominant play of rookie second round pick Darius Leonard. While Leonard has been racking up the stats and very high praise league wide, there is another defensive player who deserves a ton of credit for the quick turnaround. That player is none other than defensive lineman Margus Hunt — just like we all expected.
Hunt entered the preseason presumably on the Colts’ roster bubble. The team is in the middle of a rebuild and is taking a slow, youth first approach to building up the roster. This was evident by the surprising release of defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins prior to the offseason. Many assumed that other veteran players, such as Hunt who turned 31 back in July, would also be on the way out.
Hunt then defied the odds in the preseason, beating out fan favorite John Simon for a roster spot. Defensive coordinator pointed out Hunt as one of the players who really stood out in July/ August and thought he really excelled in the new scheme Eberflus was installing. That trust in Hunt to not only keep him on the roster but to give him significant snaps has resulted in 8 tackles for a loss and 3 sacks in just three games this season.
So what is the reason for this breakout? Is Hunt really this good or is Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus and his 4-3 scheme setting up Hunt for big plays? Well lets look to the film and see what is really the reason behind Margus Hunt’s dominant play.
Skill Set and Development:
One of the main factors to Hunt’s breakout is the refinement of his near elite traits that he’s had since entering the NFL. Hunt is a massive 6’8” 298 pound player with insane strength and speed for man his size. At his combine back in 2013, Hunt led all defensive lineman with an insane 4.60 40 yard dash (the same 40 time that Eric Ebron ran) and 38 reps on the bench press (3 more reps than Quenton Nelson). If you need anymore proof that this man is a pure athlete, here’s a reminder that he won two Gold Medals in the shot put and discus events at the 2006 World Junior Championships. So yeah, this guy has the traits to be a star.
But does it translate on the field? In years past, not so much, but Hunt has clearly been working on his game this offseason. Lets look at our first clip here against the Eagles. Hunt is lined up over one of the best centers in football in Jason Kelce. After a really quick jump out of his stance, Hunt’s strength is able to throw Kelce on his back. If this play were not a quick hitter, we are looking at another sack for Hunt. This kind of strength is unheard of as not many players have the ability to effortlessly throw a player of Kelce’s caliber on his back.
Well, okay that last play was impressive but it didn’t translate to anything statistically. Lets look at a play where he is able to make a play on the ball carrier. Here Hunt is being double teamed by center Jason Kelce (#62) and guard Stefen Wisniewski (#61). Notice how Hunt is able to strafe down the line, through the double team, and still make the play. His strength and athleticism to be able to fight through those two blocks and still put himself in the right position to make a play is remarkable. Again this is a play that very few players can make yet Hunt has the skill set to come all the way across the line and make the tackle.
So it’s easy to establish how strong of a player Hunt is on tape. But what about his explosion and quickness? Oh yeah he has that too. Watch this clip here against Washington Redskins guard Shawn Lauvao (#77). Right off the snap, Hunt explodes out of his stance and gets inside position on Lauvao. Hunt is then able to quickly turn the corner inside and beat Lauvao for the sack. Even though this play was negated due to an offsides call on Kemoko Turay, it shows the strides that Hunt has taken in the offseason as a pass rusher. He had the strength before the year but adding quickness and explosion out of his stance is making him really hard to block one on one for interior offensive lineman.
This last clip here shows all of his traits in one. First he has the strength to just disregard Lauvao and toss him aside. He then shows off his athletic ability to strafe down the line in a zone run and tackle running back Adrian Peterson for a loss. Again, for a player who is 6’8” to be able to crash down the line like this and make this play is quite insane. Hunt’s traits and athletic ability are up there with the best defensive lineman in all of football.
So we’ve not only established that Margus Hunt has the traits to be a good player in the NFL, but he possesses the traits to be a star player in this league. So the main question that naturally comes to mind then is why has it taken so long for this breakout to happen? Well that is where Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus comes in. Eberflus came from coaching the Dallas Cowboys’ linebackers last year and brings an aggressive, stunt heavy 4-3 defense to the Colts. This scheme perfectly fits Hunt’s strengths as it asks him to primarily shoot gaps and disrupt rather than being an all around playmaker.
Lets go to the film here. Now this first play is nothing flashy but Hunt accomplishes everything he is supposed to here. Hunt is yet again matched up with Stefen Wisniewski (#62) and is just shooting the gap here. When the outside zone comes Hunt’s way, the running back has no choice but to cut back inside as Hunt walked Wisniewski into the backfield and right in front of the running back. Hunt effectively forces the play back inside where Anthony Walker is waiting to make the tackle. This play isn’t flashy by any means but it contributes to an overall defensive effort and accomplishes what Matt Eberflus wants from his defensive lineman.
Here is another example of Hunt shooting the gap and disrupting the play. Hunt shoots the A gap between the guard and center and is able to get good penetration across the line. As a result, running back Corey Clement is forced to find the cut back lane which happens to be right where a host of defenders are waiting for him for a minimal gain. This play is again attributed to Hunt’s fit in Eberflus’ scheme as he is asked to just get up field and force the ball carrier back to where the other defenders are. Again not a flashy play but it helps limit the other offense and makes things easier on the linebackers.
Now these last few plays have not been flashy at all but they have shown glimpses of what Eberflus clearly liked about Hunt in the offseason. Now what happens when Hunt’s athleticism and newfound ability to time up snap counts is put into this gap shooting scheme. The potential for big tackles for a loss. Watch this play here as Hunt is again just tasked with shooting the A gap between the guard and center. Hunt times up the snap perfectly and is able to blow past the center for the huge tackle for a loss. Now this is a busted play for the Eagles but without Hunt getting back there so quickly, QB Carson Wentz could have gotten rid of the ball and saved 8 yards. This play right here is what happens when pure talent meets a perfect scheme fit.
Here is another example of Hunt shooting the A gap resulting in a big tackle for a loss. The Redskins here are going for a quick draw to running back Chris Thompson, a play that typically leads to a lot of success for them. Hunt, just doing his assignment here, blows the play up by exploding past guard Brandon Scherff and center Chase Roullier. Hunt isn’t overwhelming any blockers in these last two snaps or even showing off his coveted strength, but he is using his natural traits to excel in his role in a designed defense. As a result, he is leading the NFL in tackles for a loss three games into the season.
Now shooting gaps isn’t the only way that Margus Hunt is being utilized in Matt Eberflus’ scheme. In this defense, there is a lot of stunting in the defensive line particularly on passing downs. Hunt is a near perfect fit for this as well as he has the big frame to eat up lineman so others can stunt around him and the athleticism to efficiently twist around others who are eating up blocks. On this play here, Hunt is able to draw center Jason Kelce (#62) to far out of position to set up Jabaal Sheard on the inside stunt. Kelce tries to recover but whiffs big time as Sheard has an open lane to the quarterback. Although this play didn’t result in a sack, this near impact play is a direct result of Margus Hunt eating up blocks inside.
Last play here but this is the big impact play that we’ve also seen from Hunt on these stunt plays. His athleticism allows him to quickly get around the edge to engage right tackle Lane Johnson on the twist. Despite not beating Johnson, Hunt is able to get enough of a push to get his arms on the quarterback. Hunt makes an excellent play here by reaching around Johnson to knock the ball away from Carson Wentz. All around a great drawn up play by Matt Eberflus on 3rd and long and a great impact play by Hunt.
Bonus Clip: Get Your Hands Up
I just really wanted to add this play to show how far Hunt has come from his early days in the NFL. Hunt entered the NFL as a raw 25 year old who didn’t have much football experience under his belt. His growth in 6 years is shown here in this savvy veteran move. Unable to get up field against his blocker, Hunt doesn’t desperately overrun the play like many young players would. Instead Hunt sits back, keeps contain on Carson Wentz and gets his hands into the passing lane. Again not the flashiest play but a very savvy play that shows how much Hunt has grown in his time in the NFL.
Overall I am very impressed with the strides Margus Hunt has taken as a player. He is no longer a raw draft bust but rather an effective role player who has the traits to impact the game. He really has grown in the mental aspect of his game from his early years as instead of trying to do too much he is just doing his role at a high level and letting the plays come to him.
Now I will say that he is not the superstar that his stats would indicate. He does have some work to do before he reaches that status such as developing more counters and using his hands more when rushing the passer but this is still the best Margus Hunt has played in his six year career.
Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus raved about Margus Hunt this offseason and I can see why. Hunt is the perfect fit in his gap shooting, stunt heavy system and the stats that Hunt is putting up are a major indicator of that. When a great scheme fit meets pure talent and opportunity, you get what could be a career year for the Estonian giant Margus Hunt.