Indianapolis was anchored to a 22-19 overtime victory over the Baltimore Ravens by the defense conquering its biggest test against the most dynamic quarterback in football, 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson.
According to Pro Football Focus, Indianapolis holds the third-best pass rush grade (74.7) in the AFC, behind Cleveland (90.1) and Pittsburgh (81.4). Defensive tackle Grover Stewart, who leads all interior defensive lineman with a 87.9 PFF run defense grade, ranks second with 10 defensive stops this season.
When the defense had to step up after Gardner Minshew stepped out the back of the end zone to give up a safety and extend the deficit to 19-16, they did. With 2:03 left in regulation, the Ravens mismanaged the play-calling and thanks to the two minute warning, their final timeout and a block in the back penalty, the Colts regained possession with 1:41 left. The defense was dealt another difficult task in overtime once the Ravens started the drive at the Colts’ 47-yard line, but forced a clutch three and out and denied Ravens’ kicker Justin Tucker a second opportunity to end the game.
During Tuesday’s zoom meeting, Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley mentioned the defensive front needed a speed rusher and 2023 free agent addition Samson Ebukam has fulfilled the LEO position in the trenches. His speed off the edge creates havoc for left tackles and his gap discipline as a seasoned veteran is essential to the Colts run defense.
“He can set the edge, take on a cut block, a slice block, pullers, he has been really good there as far as setting the edge for us with that,” Bradley said.
Steichen deemed Ebukam the Colts defensive player of the game after he corralled Jackson for a strip-sack. He registered an 87.4 pass rush grade in Week 3, which ranked seventh among all edge rushers.
“He plays with so much physicality, he sets the edges, he rushes the passer, he’s able to fall back and make plays on the running back like he did the other day,” Steichen said.
On the Ravens’ next offensive play after the Colts tied the game 7-7, quarterback Lamar Jackson tried to pump-fake, but free agent addition Taven Bryan swiped the tucked ball loose. Kwity Paye recovered the fumble to set up the offense inside the red zone and take the lead with a field goal. Indianapolis leads the NFL with 23 tackles for loss, seven forced fumbles and five strip-sacks this season.
Indianapolis-native Juju Brents, the Colts second round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, made first career start in Baltimore and recorded four tackles in his NFL debut. Brents received a 89.3 PFF coverage grade for Week 3, which ranked fifth among all cornerbacks. The Colts rookie made his most impactul play by punching the football loose from running back Kenyan Drake and recovered the fumble to regain possession.
“We do the takeaway circuit every day in practice and we harp on it every single day so it comes to life on Sundays,” Steichen said.
Linebacker Zaire Franklin sacked Jackson on a crucial third down to give the offense an opportunity to execute a game-winning drive with 2:14 left to play in the fourth quarter, before the aforementioned safety. Franklin recorded a game-high 15 tackles in the victory, passing Pat Angerer for the most tackles by a Colts player in the first three weeks of the season. His 45 tackles lead the NFL and his 13 defensive stops on run plays lead all linebackers.
“Everyone is on the same page,” Franklin said. “We know where to be, and I feel like we are light years ahead of where we were last year.”
The Colts (2-1) next test comes against the Los Angeles Rams (1-2), who rank 26th in the league with just 84 rushing yards per game and 28th with 3.36 rush yards per play. On Monday Night Football in Cincinnati, the Rams rushing attack was abysmal, and the offense converted just 1-of-13 third down opportunities. For Indianapolis to secure its first home win with Anthony Richardson’s (concussion) game status in question, the stampede must limit the explosive plays and end possessions on money downs.