Regardless of how you feel about the Colts through week 13, if you’ve been paying any attention, you’ve seen how well the defense has been playing. That is in large part due to the development, play calling, and grading done by defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
Eberflus has done a really great job of bringing his young defense along and developing them into a group that cracks the top ten in the league per Football Outsiders’ weighted defensive efficiency metric. On Tuesday Eberflus sat down with the media and went into some detail on what his grading system looks like and how hard guys have to work inside of it.
He began by talking about positive plays and how they are graded:
“So what you basically have is you have the things you would think would be positive – you have a point value for every positive thing you do and the better it is the more points it has. So a primary tackle would be like two points, an assisted tackle would be a point, a TFL (tackle for loss) is five points, an interception is seven points, a caused fumble would be five plus a another three because I give exceptional plays on top of certain things that change the football game. That is just a sample size of that. If you score on defense, that would be eight points, which Bobby (Okereke) had a couple weeks ago on the (two-point conversion return).”
Then he goes into how the negative plays and “loafs” are factored in:
“On the negative side, you have minus two for a missed tackle, a critical error would be minus five, if you loaf that is a minus one. So there are point values to all of it. Then at the end you have your positive points, your negative points and your total number and you divide that into the total number of plays and that gives you a percentage. So if you hit a 45 percent or better that is an A-plus. So you’re hitting at what I call a half rate. So if you are hitting on the number of points, you’re at 50 plays and get 25 points, that is a good hit rate.”
This is a fascinating look at the post-game evaluation process for the defense, and shows how guys across that unit are held accountable for their play. While some systems might go easy on star players or let things slide that might need to be addressed, using a system like this means no one gets away with one. They are facing accountability after every game for their shortcomings on every single play, and developing as players because of it.
He also talked about how tough the system is for rookies and how they often struggle to measure up to it early:
“I mean it’s hard. The guys get in there at first and they have a bunch of loafs. They are misaligned and you’re getting minuses for that. So you’ve just got to play clean.”
“It takes time, it takes time. Most of them, they get disappointed for a while because they get a bad grade – F, F, F – and then all of a sudden there is a C, then a C-plus and keep going from there.”
Eberflus has reiterated on multiple occasions that he uses the same system he has since 1995, and said in this conversation that he has a database of every grade awarded to every player. This is clearly a coach who values that system and it seems to be working well for his players. That atmosphere of accountability and of concrete and clear benchmarks and expectations for his players has helped to shape this young defense into a group that cannot be ignored.
While there has been more than a little disappointment about the way this season has turned out, it is very encouraging to have a defensive coordinator who is doing the kinds of things Eberflus is with such a young team, and there is no reason to think this group is headed anywhere but up.