The Indianapolis Colts fell to the Tennessee Titans 31-17 at home on Sunday. This was a big loss for the team as it almost certainly crushes their hopes at the post season in 2019. While there are a lot of negative takeaways from this game on the offensive and special teams sides of things, the defense played quite well. This is a recurring theme for the team as they have only allowed 17 points per game (when excluding defensive and special teams touchdowns against) since week five against the Chiefs. The most notable standout though on Sunday was the pass rush as they were able to make life terrible for quarterback Ryan Tannehill all afternoon.
In today’s film room, we will be looking at this Colts’ pass rush and see why they were able to be so effective against a fairly good Titans’ offensive line.
Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus dialed up so many blitzes on Sunday as this was one of his most aggressive games as the Colts’ defensive play caller. Here he drops edge defender Justin Houston into zone coverage while blitzing backside linebackers Bobby Okereke and Anthony Walker on the play fake. Okereke is able to break through the backside of the line and force a big fumble on the Titans’ QB. Houston is able to recover as the Colts took over in great field position. Great play call by Eberflus and an excellent play by Okereke, who has been playing some very good football since week 5.
Eberflus was sending five or more guys on almost every passing situation in this game and it worked for the most part. This next play is perfectly designed as the double stunt in the middle isolates linebacker Anthony Walker on running back Dion Lewis. Lewis holds the block as long as he can but eventually Walker is able to break through and get to the quarterback. Also notice on this design that the Colts are playing man but have a rover sitting on the underneath route to take away the hot read check down. The blitz design was great but also drawing up that coverage to take away the hot route was another reason this play led to a sack.
One of the bets developments on defense for the Colts this season has been the usage of Darius Leonard. Early in the year, Leonard struggled in coverage as he was slow to react and getting to his land markers. The Colts adjusted by allowing Leonard to attack more on obvious passing plays, utilizing him more as a pass rusher and QB spy rather than a zone defender. The results have been great so far, as Leonard is nearly at his total for sacks last season with seven less games played so far this year. This is very commendable by the Colts’ coaching staff as very few teams would make this adjustment for their All-Pro linebacker. Rather than trying to make him this perfect all-around player, they are allowing him to play to his strengths and the results have been great so far.
Good defenses understand how to attack inexperienced players. The Titans have a good offensive line, but their one perceived weakness is right guard Nate Davis. He hasn’t been bad this season, but he is a rookie mid-round pick that the Colts took advantage of here. The Colts run a twist on the interior and Davis is fooled by it, switching off his man before allowing the center to gain control of the block. The result is a free rush for Jabaal Sheard on the interior. Also, props to Ben Banogu for a good rush on the outside that kept Tannehill in the pocket.
Denico Autry has been a bit of a disappointment this season, as he didn’t take the steps forward that we all expected in the offseason. He has, however, been very good against the Titans, with three sacks in the two matchups. Here, Eberflus brings pressure up the middle with Leonard to create havoc on the line. As the play develops, Autry is able to rip through his double team and make his way to the quarterback. Banogu forced Tannehill to step up in the pocket and he runs right into the rush of Autry. Great play all around by the pass rush and by Autry for splitting the double team for the sack.
There are very few unstoppable plays in the NFL. One of the most unstoppable plays though in the league is what we like to call the “Kenny Moore blitz.” The play call is simple. Matt Eberflus basically just tells the league’s best slot cornerback to get after the opposing quarterback and more times than not, he gets it done. Most of his blitzes are free rushes as the offense is unaware of the blitz until their quarterback is on the ground. Here though, Moore II is blocked initially by the running back. He stays with the play and when Tannehill escapes the pocket, Moore II is right there to clean up the play for a sack. Great play call as always by Eberflus here but also a good rush by Darius Leonard to force Tannehill right into the arms of Moore II.
The final clip from this game features two notable rushes on this play. First player to point out is Jabaal Sheard on the interior as his impressive bull rush knocks the right guard deep into the pocket and into the face of Tannehill. This leads to the quarterback to bail from the pocket. Banogu notices this on the outside and quickly disengages from his blocker and nearly gets the sack on the play. This should have been an obvious hold on the outside that went uncalled for some reason. Without that hold, this is an easy sack for the rookie pass rusher. Good rush by two of the more underrated players on this defense.
The Colts’ defense came to play on Sunday and the pass rush was a big part of the team’s success on that side of the ball. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means, but the defense was able to provide consistent pressure all game in the face of Ryan Tannehill. For a defense that has propelled into the top ten in the league per DVOA, seeing the one concern on the defense show this improvement was a good sign.
The biggest takeaway was Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus. The Titans’ offense came into this game on fire and the Colts’ defense had an answer all game, for the most part. Eberflus was aggressive when he needed to be and drew up a game plan that gave the Colts multiple chances to win this game. Since week five, he has had this group playing as one of the best defenses in the league. The future is bright on that side of the ball going forward with the youth at all levels and the strong play calling of Eberflus.