The Colts have played a couple of pretty sloppy games over the last two weeks, but in terms of their defense, they’ve actually played really well since the beginning of October. During the past month, the defense has held opposing teams to 23 or less in every game they’ve played. Those games include the Chiefs and Texans, both potent offenses that have proven more than capable of doubling that number.
Justin Houston has been a big part of the success in that time, playing his best stretch as a Colt. Houston meets with former Colt Robert Mathis on Thursdays before games and they work through the finer points of pass rush plans to put together the finishing touches on how he’ll attack the offensive linemen of the opposition in the coming game.
Matt Eberflus talked a little bit this week about the trust he has in Mathis and how those meetings are run.
“I trust Robert (Mathis). We worked with him all last year. I’m not in those meetings. I know we have a lot of conversations about pass rush during the course of the week of who we want to match up on and what we want to do in terms of the rush plan. I bet it’s very insightful. I trust Robert. I trust Justin (Houston) for what they’re working on there and I’m sure they’ve done a great job with it.”
Obviously Mathis has been on staff and knows the expectations of this Colts team, but it is definitely interesting that he’s given the keys to put together a plan that Eberflus is not totally plugged in on. It shows that not only Mathis, but also Houston have earned that level of trust and respect from the defensive coordinator to take care of their business.
It is clear when Eberflus speaks about Houston that he’s very happy with what he’s gotten from him from day one.
“No, I think he has done a really good job of just his habits since he’s been here. When he first came in the recruitment phase of it we talked to him – Chris (Ballard) talked to him, I talked to him – about what we’re all about and the standards we’re all about. Then we kind of just laid it all on the table and from that point on he’s bought into that standard and the style in which we want to play. He’s played extremely hard. He’s played really well against the run. I showed several snaps today in the meeting of him playing the run really well. He’s being a complete all-around defensive end – not only his special talents to rush the passer but also every facet of his game.”
That kind of example is invaluable to young players like Ben Banogu who are trying to make their way and earn more snaps. Banogu has stepped up into a bigger role with the loss of Kemoko Turay earlier in the season. He has spoken openly about a willingness to take on any role they want to use him in as well as learning from the veterans out there doing it at a high level now.
That willingness hasn’t gone unnoticed by Eberflus.
“Yeah, I just think when you’re in the system – because we do the same things over and over again – I think some of that is experience and time on the job. He’s learning. I think when young players come in – it’s like anything – they see what it takes to play in the system and then what’s demanded of them from our players and from our standards that we’ve all set. I think once you understand that it becomes really clear. Everything is on the table, they understand what the standards are (and) it’s a clear picture. When you have older guys like Jabaal (Sheard) and Justin (Houston) holding those standards and playing a certain way, it’s really easy for the players to see it. I think he’s seeing that now.”
This is exactly the kind of culture that Chris Ballard intended to build. One that draws former players back to the team to impart wisdom and mentor the veteran team leaders to be even better, sets a key example to follow by way of those veteran leaders both in play and in preparation, and pushes the young developing players to be better and work harder because of the example of the veteran starters.
The Colts pass rush situation isn’t the best in the league in terms of pure talent, but they have a system in place that is working to uphold their standard of play, as well as develop their players to be the best that they are capable of being. That is a credit to Chris Ballard, Frank Reich, and Matt Eberflus. This defensive front is playing the best it has all season, and the future looks pretty bright.