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Is Matt Eberflus leaving really bad news?

NFL: NOV 18 Titans at Colts Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

So this is where we are at right now: The Colts are in danger of losing a key coordinator for the second offseason in a row. This time it’s defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. While Eberflus is certainly not a bad coordinator by any means, during the course of the past two seasons I just could not help but ask myself the question: Is Matt Eberflus really as good a coordinator as most people think?

First, let’s start off by taking a look at the numbers:

Colts’ defense since 18’

///////////////////////// 3rd Down % T.O % Pass DVOA Run DVOA
///////////////////////// 3rd Down % T.O % Pass DVOA Run DVOA
2022 20th 1st 17th 3rd
2021 18th 3rd 8th 9th
2020 27th 10th 19th 18th
2019 18th 8th 15th 4th

Where Eberflus is great

Led by All-Pro inside linebacker Darius “The Maniac” Leonard, the Colts defense has been terrific at causing turnovers ever since Eberflus arrived, ranking in the top 10 every single season. Not only that, but it also seemed like the Colts’ defense was especially adept at creating turnovers at crucial times during games, as there were several times this season that the offense just failed to capitalize after a key turnover (the Raiders game, for example). Whether it’s interceptions or forced fumbles, the Colts defense just has a knack for the football, and forcing turnovers is always an important piece of winning games. The Colts were also able to generate turnovers at key moments, in games against Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Las Vegas, and Arizona. The problem with this defense is that many times it seemed like it was either a forced turnover or an allowed touchdown.

The Colts’ defense under Matt Eberflus has also been amazing at stopping the run, one aspect of the game that to many is outdated in an NFL era where the passing game has taken the spotlight. After being a major liability in the Chuck Pagano era, Eberflus came in and fixed what had been a lackluster run defense and turned it into one of the best in the NFL. The problem with that is simple: most elite offenses in the NFL right now rely mostly on the passing game to get their offense going. There are only two top-15 offenses that truly depend on the running game, the Colts and the Titans, and the Titans have their passing offense perfectly suited to complement that running game.

Where Eberflus is bad

Just by looking at the numbers above, one can see where this defense has struggled throughout the years: third-down conversion and pass defense. In my opinion, these are two of the three most important aspects of playing defense in today’s NFL (the third one being causing turnovers).

Stopping the opposing offense on third down is key for a defense, as not only it is imperative to be able to get off the field as quickly as possible, but also because too many 3rd down conversions by the offense have a tendency to wear out a defense. Think about the games against the Titans, Buccaneers, Ravens, where the Colts defense seemingly looked gassed at the end of the game (which is also the fault of the offense to some degree). The Colts never ranked above 18th under Eberflus, and the numbers back the eye test: How many times did it seem like the Colts forced a 3rd and long, only to allow a long completion for a first? The lack of 3rd down defense might also be a big cause why this defense was so bad in the 4th quarter this year, ranking 29th in the NFL in opposing points scored in the 4th quarter.

The lack of a consistent pass rush has also hurt Eberflus during his tenure. This is not solely his fault, GM Chris Ballard has been terrible at drafting defensive ends. Kemoko Turay, Tyquan Lewis, Ben Banogu, Tarrell Basham... just no production at all from players that the Colts spent a big amount of capital on. That narrative seems to be changing as Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo had promising rookie seasons, but the truth is that Eberflus never truly had quality edge rushers to use, but it also could be that he just could not develop them properly. It must be hard coaching a defense when a player like Al-Quadin Muhammad is getting over 80% of the snaps. The Colts have ranked 31st, 18th, 23rd, and 30th in pressure rate in Eberflus’ 4 seasons as the defensive coordinator. Just not good enough, especially in a league where generating consistent pressure is so important to shut down the game’s best quarterbacks.

Speaking of elite quarterbacks, let’s take a look at how Eberflus defense has fared against them over the past two seasons:

Colts defense vs. Elite quarterbacks (last two seasons)

///////////////////////// Completion Rate YPA TDs INTs
///////////////////////// Completion Rate YPA TDs INTs
Wilson 78.26% 11.04 4 0
Stafford 63.33% 9.27 2 1
Lamar (2021) 86.05% 10.28 4 0
Allen 60.00% 5.97 2 2
Allen (Playoffs) 74.29% 9.26 2 0
Brady 73.53% 6.65 1 1
Kyler 62.79% 5.70 1 0
Lamar (2020) 82.61% 7.39 0 0
Rodgers 71.05% 8.18 3 1
AVERAGE 72.43% 8.19 2.11 0.56

The numbers speak for themselves. Eberflus’ scheme just has not worked in the past against proper quarterbacks. Sure it worked against the Jets’ second-string quarterback (the 3rd string one roasted us), it worked against Jacoby Brissett, against Davis Mills, and a hobbled Jimmy G in the rain, but those are not likely quarterbacks you will be facing in the playoffs.

Conclusion

All in all, I am just not seeing how Eberflus is getting so much attention as a potential head coach candidate this season. First of all, I would not take a defensive coordinator as a head coach unless he is absolutely mind-blowing, which Eberflus is not. Sure, he certainly has his bright spots, as his defenses cause plenty of turnovers, and he has been able to develop plenty of young players, but his inability to put up a consistent pass rush and his deficiencies against elite quarterbacks just keep him from being in the upper echelon of NFL defensive coordinators. If you ask me, Eberflus leaving could potentially be a blessing in disguise for the Colts, as a new face could revitalize this talented unit.