The Indianapolis Colts have had some outstanding performances from what appears to be one of the top defenses in the league. This remained the case on Sunday as the Lions had no answer for Matt Eberflus and this talented defensive unit. What was the most impressive aspect of this win though was how the defense had success.
On the season the Colts have blitzed the fourth fewest amount in the NFL, only blitzing 18.8% of the time according to Pro Football Reference. That was vastly different on Sunday as the Colts blitzed on an insane 42.9% of the time against the Lions. The change in the game plan worked to perfection as quarterback Matthew Stafford had a quarterback rating of just 52.3 against the Colts’ blitzes.
So today we are going to look at a few of these blitzes and see why I think there could be even more in store for this talented Colts’ defense.
I loved that the Colts were able to get safety Khari Willis down in the box in this game and utilize him in the blitz game. Here he comes hard downhill into the B gap behind Grover Stewart. Stewart crashes down to the A gap to create space for Willis to run through. The running back ends up picking up this blitz but this is great for two reasons. One is that if the running back was not there, this would be an easy sack for Willis. Two and more importantly though is that even though the back is in to block, Willis is able to take him out of the play. This allows Tyquan Lewis and Justin Houston to only have to beat their one on one matchups and prevents Stafford from stepping up.
Really liked some of the blitzes we saw from the Colts on Sunday. Most of them were just simple five man rushes designed to isolate the edge rushers. Here Khari Willis takes on the running back and prevents Stafford from stepping up. This leads to Lewis and Houston converging pic.twitter.com/sm9eYpNKIQ— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 4, 2020
One thing that the Colts did a lot the past two years under Eberflus is utilize Darius Leonard as a blitzer. That hasn’t been the case as much this year until this past Sunday. Leonard was back to his previous role where he would line up over the center on passing downs and be utilized as a blitzer or drop defender. Here the Colts slant down the end and tackle to create space on the outside. Leonard crashes hard around the edge and forces Stafford to step up right into the waiting arms of Tyquan Lewis.
Love what the Colts do with Darius Leonard lined up over the center on passing downs. Coach Eberflus uses him to his strengths and allows him to be in attack mode. Simple stunt up front but Leonard's speed coming around forced Stafford to step up into a sack. pic.twitter.com/KMsSLklMja— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 4, 2020
Eberflus even got a bit creative with his blitzes in this game. He had the tendency to bring Willis and Leonard throughout the game but this time he switches it up a bit. He drops those two into coverage and brings both Julian Blackmon and Bobby Okereke on the blitz in this 4-3 under look. Blackmon is able to take out the running back on the play and Okereke gets into Stafford’s face to force the incompletion. Great rushes on the interior by both Ben Banogu and Grover Stewart to force the rollout by Stafford as well.
Eberflus loves using his defensive backs on blitzes. Here the right side of the line slants down as the deep safety (Blackmon) and the 4-3 under SAM in Okereke come on the blitz and nearly get to Stafford pic.twitter.com/L7IO3Y6Wxg— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 4, 2020
Willis was a one man wrecking crew on blitzes in this game. While he didn’t log any sacks or hits, he got into the backfield in a hurry on a number of blitzes and influenced many decisions from Stafford. Here he creeps into the box like he is playing man on the running back before adjusting last second and coming on the blitz. He forces a very quick check down which is swiftly taken care of by Leonard and Xavier Rhodes.
Another Khari Willis blitz from the money backer spot. This free rusher forces Stafford to dump it off quick for a very short gain on the play. Also nice move by Buckner to slant inside to create this lane for Willis pic.twitter.com/oZvLRis0R0— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 4, 2020
The play of the game for the Colts came on the exact same blitz that we broke down earlier. Again, Leonard is lined up over the center in an obvious passing situation. The defensive end and tackle both slant down and preoccupy the three blockers to that side. This leaves space for Leonard to swing around the edge and corner for the sack and forced fumble. Great play by Leonard to punch this ball out by the design on this blitz is phenomenal.
Exact same blitz as earlier in the game. DE and DT slant down and Leonard, who is over the center, loops around for the sack. We saw a lot of these last year but this was the first game that we have seen these blitz from the Colts in 2020 pic.twitter.com/LXL2d63B2v— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 4, 2020
When you are having success blitzing a quarterback and getting pressure in a game, it leads to big mistakes. The Colts don’t do anything fancy here as Okereke sells like he’s blitzing and Leonard does blitz from the backside. What happens though is Stafford peaks and sees Leonard coming up the middle. This rattles one of the better veteran quarterbacks in the league into throwing a terrible and costly interception. Constant pressure creates mistakes and we saw that all game on Sunday.
Result of successfully blitzing all game-> forcing the QB into mistakes. Stafford sees Leonard coming with a quick glance and forces an outside pass that isn't open. Kenny takes it back for six pic.twitter.com/SbNZNQEIQq— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 4, 2020
The genius of a DC like Matt Eberflus is that he is tied to his scheme but he is always willing to adjust based on his personnel. For instance, players like Willis and Leonard are at their best when they can constantly be in attack mode and move forward while players like Blackmon and Okereke are very cerebral players who excel in coverage. Despite not having a blitz heavy scheme, Eberflus used this to his advantage as he had Willis and Leonard attack all day with Okereke and Blackmon sit back and take away the passing lanes. Scheme consistency is important but utilizing players to the best of their abilities is what makes a great Defensive Coordinator.
Love how the Colts utilized Willis and Leonard on blitzes in this one. Getting speed into the offensive backfield and getting one on ones for the defensive linemen up front. Great schemed up game by Eberflus pic.twitter.com/wwzIpciTRt— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 4, 2020
To finish this piece off, how could we talk about blitzes without having a Kenny Moore II one in here? The Colts sent constant pressure up the gut all game long and it set up this edge blitz by Moore II. With all the congestion up the middle, Moore II is able to sneak off the end and force a quick and risky throw by Stafford over the middle.
Constant blitzes up the middle all game leads to this type of play. Leonard comes up the middle but Flus is able to sneak Kenny Moore II off the backside for the quick pressure and throw into traffic by Stafford pic.twitter.com/1l7kBxrpuK— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 4, 2020
This is one of those games that makes you think about how good of a defensive coach Matt Eberflus is. He is a zone heavy coach by design who rarely likes to blitz. However on Sunday, he rolled out a single high man defense that brought pressure constantly all game long.
This is what makes a great coach. Being able to adjust game to game and putting players in the proper positions to play to their strengths. It has been a truly special season up to this point from the defense and Eberflus is a huge part of it.
However, they are going to be tested going forward. The upcoming schedule is just brutal and we will truly see how good this team and defense are. The key won’t be to stop these offenses but to simply slow them down and create enough big plays on defense, like a strip sack or a pick six, to give the offense a chance. I have a lot of confidence in this group and coaching staff to stand tall against these top offenses.