INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts general manager Chris Ballard today sat down with Colts.com's Matt Taylor for his quarterly update on 1075 The Fan's "Colts Roundtable Live." What are Ballard's takeaways on the first quarter of the 2020 season for the 3-1 Colts?
Here is that entire interview, which you can also listen to above:
You earned a hard-fought win over the Bears Sunday to get to 3-1 on the year. What was your evaluation of that victory?
Ballard: "Chicago's got a good football team. We knew it was going to be that type of game. They're really good on defense, and we think we're pretty good on defense, too, so we knew what we were getting into, and Frank (Reich) and the players and the coaches did a great job getting them ready for the type of game that it was going to be. It was a tough, physical ballgame, and good that we came out on top."
After three wins in a row to close out the first quarter of the season, how pleased are you with the complementary football being played by your team?
Ballard: "Look: we've got a lot to work on. We're playing some good football, but we've got a lot of things to work on. Just a quarter of the season (has) gone by; we haven't done anything yet as far as I'm concerned, and I think the team has the same mentality. You know, 3-1 is a great start, but we've still got 12 more games to go, and this is a long season and a long grind, and I think Frank's really good about this, with the message to the team that it's on to the next game. You know, we're on to the next game and the next opponent, and that's Cleveland, and that's where our focuses are right now."
The new players that joined the team in the draft, free agency, coming over in trades, they seem to be playing very well — Philip Rivers, DeForest Buckner, Jonathan Taylor, Xavier Rhodes, Julian Blackmon, just to name a few. Are you happy with the overall new talent that you've infused into the team this year?
Ballard: "Yeah, they've all fit in well, they've all worked, they're playing some good football. I think they'd all tell you that there's things that they want to do better, each and every one of them. But right now — and especially under the circumstances when we didn't have an offseason, it was all done virtually, but all of 'em came ready to go and in shape and ready to compete and be a part of this team. I think the one thing I can say about all of them is they're all really good teammates, they're fitting in to what we want to do, both offensively, defensively and on special teams, so, no, we're happy with all those guys."
With Rivers, specifically, how has he adapted to the team and are you getting the play out of him that you envisioned when you signed him back in March?
Ballard: "Every game's different, so there's a way to win every football game. And Frank and his staff do a tremendous job early in the week of figuring out what we need to do and relaying that message to the team. You know, I know, to me, you judge quarterbacks by wins — plain and simple. Did we do what it takes to win the game? And I think Philip's playing really at a high level, he's completing over 70 percent of his throws; you know, he had a couple turnovers in the first game, but in the last three games, other than the one botched whenever he hit Mo (Alie-Cox) and it bounced off Mo in the pick versus Minnesota, he's been playing pretty flawless football and made some really big third-down throws this week versus Chicago. So, no, we couldn't be more happy to have Philip here in Indianapolis."
How about the rookie class itself? Where are you seeing the most pay-off from those first-year Colts?
Ballard: "Well, I mean, they're young players. I think with young players you're gonna have good moments and you're gonna have moments that you wish they do better. But we're pleased with all of them, where they're at. We thought (Michael) Pittman was coming on before the injury; we'll get him back and he'll get back to playing, but he was making a pretty good impact, we thought, especially in the Jet game and versus Minnesota on third down, we thought he was really coming on. You know, hopefully we can get him back in a few weeks. Jonathan (Taylor) has had some good games; we thought he ran the ball really well this last week. And then Julian Blackmon's been good; you know, coming off the knee and really inserting him in the lineup after (Malik) Hooker went down, we thought Blackmon's done some really good things. And all of our rookies have had some good moments. (Jordan) Glasgow had a blocked punt this last week. We like him in that role; when we drafted him as a special teams player, he's getting better — still has a way to go — but he's getting better and blocking that punt was a big moment. And then (Isaiah) Rodgers is getting some valuable playing time, and I think he's been close on a couple returns; his speed's pretty evident when he's out playing. So we're very pleased with all those (rookies). They're working, and they're working to get better, and that's all we can ask right now."
The Colts' defense is No. 1 in the NFL in basically every major category — total yards and points allowed — and have given up just 29 points in the last three games. I know you had confidence in that group going into the season, but did you see them playing this well through the first quarter of the season?
Ballard: "Well, let's preface this by saying it's a quarter, OK? It's a quarter of the season. We've got a long way to go. Let me tell you how I judge defensive play: how many points is the opponent scoring? That's the No. 1 stat; you can talk about every stat you want, but when you don't let them score points, that's the No. 1 stat. And then are we taking the ball away? Those two things are two things I think we have to do, and I think we're doing a really good job of it right now. We've got a long way to go, we've got a lot of stuff still to clean up, but we're very pleased with where they're at and where we're going. We've got a really tough test coming up against a very explosive Cleveland Browns team this weekend."
How impressed have you been with the "next man up" approach so far this season? You've had a lot of injuries, but your depth has really stepped up.
Ballard: "Yeah, at the end of last year I thought I really failed our coaches by not having enough on our practice squad, and nothing against the guys that ended up having to go in, but we were having some last-second changes that, just, our level of play fell off. And it's gonna happen. The injuries and attrition happens during the season, it happens to every team in the league, and you've got to be prepared for it. And our scouts and our staff have done a really good job of making sure we have replacements here in place that can play, and our coaching staff has done a tremendous job working with the entire roster, making sure they're getting the work they need, so if they're asked upon to play they can succeed in that role. I mean, we've talked about this a lot, but every guy is a starter in my mind, because the second somebody goes down, he's in that role playing. So they've got to think of it that way. You never know when it's going to happen, but at some point in the season it usually happens."
What has Matt Eberflus changed or adjusted in the Colts' defense to make it this dominant so far?
Ballard: "Well, I'll say this: we've got a philosophy, and Matt's got one: just do what we do better. And I believe in that, also. We emphasize the fundamentals of what we're doing over and over again, and we've got to do it better. I wouldn't say what we do is really complicated — but there is some disguise elements in it — but we're not doing much different than we did last year, we're just doing it better."
Is Mo Alie-Cox breaking out so far this season? And was it just a matter of opportunity for him?
Ballard: "Well, look: Mo has come a lot way, this being his fourth season, from when he first put on a helmet and shoulder pads in 2017 for us. And I think every year we've seen … it's one of the really cool things to watch, when you watch a player work as hard as as diligently as Mo did. I mean, you watch him at practice, and even when he's not taking a rep, he's taking a rep mentally. He is dialed in at all times, and I thought it could happen, and when the opportunity presented itself he took advantage of it — and he took advantage of it because he was prepared for it. He has worked his tail off every year and every offseason to get better, and it's been fun to watch. I'm proud of the kid and excited to keep watching him grow and produce for us."
How has DeForest Buckner changed the tone and the atmosphere of how the defense practices?
Ballard: "So we knew this, when we made the trade for DeForest; we had heard out of San Francisco that the way he practices and shows up each and every day is the same, just like gameday. And sometimes it doesn't catch on right at first, but eventually everybody follows suit, and DeForest has been exactly — and even more — than I expected. But he's in the building every day about 6:30, he's got a great routine that he follows, and then practice is like a game to DeForest. He is a really true pro; we feel very fortunate to have him."