One Big Storyline
On an ebullient, late-night flight back to Indianapolis on Sunday, Colts interim head coach Jeff Saturday had a number of conversations with those on the plane about sustainability.
How do we keep this all going?
"I learned this from Tony (Dungy) and Jim Caldwell – the process doesn't change," Saturday said. "We understand the key contributors to wins – turnover ratio, special teams, not giving up big plays, making big plays. Making sure we're checking all of those boxes along with our install game plans, the thought process. Make sure we're not losing the macro view or the micro view, keeping it all kind of tied in.
"To me, that's my job right now, is making sure that we're not missing on those areas. I feel like everybody is on top of it. Again, as excited as we were about beating the Raiders, we've got to go play the Eagles. The game don't change. It keeps moving on. We've got another opportunity this week and we're excited about it."
While the initial energy boost the Colts got from Saturday may have worn off – Saturday figured that usually wears off the middle of the first quarter – the process and philosophy he's brought as interim head coach has not. Saturday is keeping the same structure of the Colts' coaching staff after a whirlwind week, inserting himself where he feels necessary within the structure of the team.
"He's just so confident and then that bleeds in to us," wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. "He doesn't try to get too like scheme-y or too complicated. He just wants to go out there and beat the other person physically. So, that's basically what he was preaching all week, is beat them physically."
Among the things the Colts have seen Saturday bring to the team's culture has been a certain level accountability – "Jeff's not afraid to go in your face and tell you, that play, you sucked," wide receiver coach Reggie Wayne said – which has been well-received by players over the last week and a half.
"Jeff brought a different level of accountability to this team," wide receiver Parris Campbell. "He's really preached that since he got here. That just flowed through the entire team, and player to player. We hold ourselves to a high standard."
The attention to accountability and physicality under Saturday can be sustainable, and the Colts believe Saturday's approach gives them a chance to get the 2022 season back on track. Because going forward, it'll be about execution and not emotion for the Colts.
"Jeff, he is the thing that drives this thing," Colts Owner and CEO Jim Irsay said. "That's the reason in bringing him in, I knew he had those abilities to come in and be a great leader and take over right away because of all the help he had around him and because he knew to delegate, and he knows how to do that sort of thing."
5 Things To Watch
The need for mistake-free football. In addition to the across-the-board talent that's pushed them to an 8-1 record, the Eagles don't commit many self-inflicted mistakes. Only four teams have been penalized fewer times than the Eagles (54), and no team has turned the ball over less than Philadelphia (seven). The Washington Commanders on Monday became the first team to beat the Eagles this season; notably, Philadelphia committed more penalties and more turnovers than Washington in that game.
"They're really well-coached, well-disciplined team," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said.
"They're a good football team," added quarterback Matt Ryan. "When you play teams like this, you've got to be on the details, you've got to do the little things right and you've got to play with great passion and energy."
Jonathan Taylor vs. Philly's run defense. The Eagles' defense has allowed at least 120 rushing yards in five consecutive games and has allowed 4.6 yards per carry in that stretch. Those numbers haven't resulted in opponents winning with any consistency – the Eagles are still 4-1 in their last five, after all. But we saw what the Colts' offense can do when it's able to establish the run last week against the Las Vegas Raiders (running back Jonathan Taylor had 13 carries for 54 yards in the first half; crucially, only one of his rushes lost yardage). If the Colts can get Taylor rolling early, it could open up an opportunity for an explosive run as the game goes on while keeping the Eagles' defense off-balance on a play-to-play basis.
"We knew if we could protect and run the ball that we're gonna be a really good football team," Irsay said after the Raiders game, "and that showed today."
The Colts' O-line rising to the challenge again. So on to the next part of Irsay's belief there – pass protection. Saturday challenged the Colts' offensive line leading into Week 10, and that group kept Matt Ryan clean (four pressures on 30 drop-backs) and opened up holes for Taylor (who rushed for 147 yards).
Philadelphia entered Week 11 with fourth-most sacks (29) and fifth-most total pressures (64) in the NFL. Guys like defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (seven sacks) and edge rusher Hasson Reddick (6 1/2 sacks) have been impactful this year, and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox (61 career sacks) and edge rusher Robert Quinn (102 career sacks) have been getting after quarterbacks for a decade. It'll be another challenge for the Colts' pass protection group to keep Ryan clean on Sunday.
"It's just accountability on all fronts," Saturday said. "Obviously, I know that position specifically and I have a lot of respect for what those guys have done and the way we've carried ourselves at that position on the team. I believe it needed to be addressed and emphasized. Those guys responded tremendously. Again, I know how hard it is. I know how hard these guys work. This was not an effort issue, this is an accountability. This is what it's going to look like play after play after play and those guys have responded and I think they've appreciated it. Again, I'll hold you accountable, I'll also be a big cheerleader. That's what I was on Sunday and really excited how they responded."
Can the Colts slow down Jalen Hurts? Hurts has been surgical as a thrower, completing 68 percent of his passes and only putting the ball in harm's way six times (per Pro Football Focus' "turnover-worthy plays" stat). And as a runner, 29 of his 94 rushing attempts have gone for five or more yards; he also has seven touchdowns.
"Just another unique challenge in this league," linebacker Bobby Okereke said.
There's not necessarily one right or wrong way to defend a playmaking quarterback as dynamic as Hurts. But if the Colts can keep a lid on explosive plays, that might be a good start. The Colts enter Week 11 allowing 5.6 plays of 15 or more yards per game, the third-lowest rate in the NFL; the Eagles are averaging 7.4 plays of 15+ yards per game, tied for fifth-highest in the league.
One other thing to watch in the Colts' defense vs. Eagles' offense matchup. If the Colts can limit the Eagles' explosiveness on offense, they'll still have to contend with their efficiency – which is among the best in the NFL:
So the last thing here is short, too – if the Colts can limit explosive plays and get off the field on third down, their defense will put together another solid performance.