MINNEAPOLIS -- The Colts' defense is aiming for 40 takeaways in 2021. But in preparing to hit that goal, they're also presenting a stiff challenge to the Colts' offense, namely quarterbacks Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger.
"I don't think no defense plays as hard as we play," linebacker Darius Leonard said. "There's nobody who's getting off the ball in practice the way we do. There's nobody that's all 11 guys punching at the ball or getting after the quarterback.
"It's just going to make everybody play their A game day in and day out, so when it comes to the game, it's not like it's their first time going hard. You're going hard every day in practice. Everybody we practice is just like we play so when it comes to gametime, it's not easy but it's second nature to you."
For Eason and Ehlinger, there's been little margin for error during practices at Grand Park. To have a successful rep against this defense, everything has to be on point (and even then, sometimes an elite player still makes an elite play).
"If you're a step late," Eason said, "you're late."
Something Ehlinger noted is the lack of coverage busts that leave a wide receiver or tight end wide open downfield. Those have been an extreme rarity in the hundreds of 11 on 11 and seven on seven reps taken over the last few weeks.
And beyond that the windows to throw are tight. So combined with how fast Colts defenders rally to the ball, that mean passes have to be pinpoint to generate yards after the catch.
"Even when they're in man to man, very rarely do you have a guy running free," Ehlinger said. "If you want a big play or you want a completion, you gotta be perfect with your accuracy just because how good the guys are that are defending them."
Both Eason and Ehlinger had strong preseason debuts last weekend against the Carolina Panthers and will look to carry those over to Saturday night's date with the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium. And there's something to be said for preparing for these games by facing a Colts defense that's on a mission to be the NFL's best.
"We got a great defensive coordinator in (Matt Eberflus) and just great guys all around," Eason said. "From the linebacker core to the safeties to the D-line, we got dudes over there. So it's great to have that competition every single day, day in and day out.
"They're never going to let you get off easy. That has helped me out a lot in terms of getting prepared for game days and whoever else we're going to see. It's very challenging but I'm also very fortunate to face that challenge every and grow from it."