Effort and execution will always remain the hallmarks of the Indianapolis Colts' defense under coordinator Matt Eberflus.
But that doesn't mean the Colts can't throw in some strategic wrinkles from time to time to try to get the opposing offense off its game.
Case in point: Sunday afternoon against the Buffalo Bills and their MVP candidate at quarterback, Josh Allen.
The Colts were already well aware of Allen's ability to make plays with his rocket arm and his legs, as evidenced by his two touchdown passes and rushing score in the Bills' 27-24 Wild Card round victory over Indy back in January.
So on Sunday, the Colts were dedicated to two basic principles against Allen and the Bills' offense: keep the quarterback contained to the pocket up front, and try to cause confusion in the secondary with some pre-snap disguises.
The plan worked like a charm. The Indy defense forced two Allen interceptions and also nearly came away with another takeaway on a second quarter sack-fumble by defensive end Kwity Paye, as the Colts earned a 41-15 blowout road victory in front of 69,866 fans at Highmark Stadium.
"Man, what a game. I mean, what a game," head coach Frank Reich said. "It's one game, it's a regular season game, it was an important game, it was a game against a very good team — a very well-coached team. We knew the challenges ahead of us, and the guys, I could not be more proud of how we played as a team. In all three phases we made the plays, we stayed in the moment. Defensively, it was a tremendous performance against one of the top offenses and one of the top quarterbacks in the league. Getting turnovers, giving us short fields, making stops and being clutch all day long."
The Bills (6-4) came into Sunday's game perhaps the most well-rounded team in the NFL. They could undoubtedly lay claim to having the best defense in the league, while their offense, led by Allen, ranked in the top five in points scored (second), total yards (fifth), first downs (fourth) and rushing touchdowns (fifth).
But the Colts (6-5), at least on Sunday, showed from the start of the game that they were the better team by leaps and bounds.
After receiving the opening kickoff, the Indy offense proceeded to go on an 11-play, 65-yard drive that was capped with a three-yard touchdown run by Jonathan Taylor — his first of a franchise record five touchdowns on the day.
The Colts' defense also wanted to make a statement of its own to start the contest. After Allen and the Bills got as far as the Indianapolis 28-yard line on their opening drive, a false start and a holding call set up 3rd and 18 from the Colts' 43. Allen, lined up in the shotgun, fired a deep pass to the right side of the field that was intended for wide receiver Gabriel Davis, but safety George Odum read it all the way and jumped the route, picking off the pass and returning it 21 yards right back to the 43.
Five plays later, quarterback Carson Wentz found Taylor for a 23-yard score through the air, and all of a sudden the Colts were up 14-0 on the Bills with 1:48 left in the first quarter.
The play by Odum was the first of two interceptions by the Colts' defense against Allen; linebacker Zaire Franklin would add a third interception against backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the game well in hand late in the fourth quarter.
Cornerback Kenny Moore II, who earned his third interception of the season late in the third quarter thanks to a tipped pass by fellow cornerback Xavier Rhodes, complimented the defensive gameplan for Sunday's game, which included a multitude of "disguised" looks by the secondary.
"Our disguises were going to be a very important thing for today. Pre-snap we were going to show a certain play; post-snap we were going to show a different one. So it was just all about the communication and talking to each other each play," Moore II said. "I think we had a good week of prep, and correlating what we saw in practice to the game."
While the Colts' secondary thrived with its specific plan on Sunday, the defensive front found success with its own strategy: keep Allen contained to the pocket. Entering Sunday's game, since 2019, according to Pro Football Focus, Allen had completed 53-of-109 pass attempts for 885 yards and 12 touchdowns and 47 total first downs on "scramble drill" type plays, in which he's chased out of the pocket and forced to make a play on the run.
On Sunday, however, Allen completed just 4-of-8 pass attempts for 19 yards — and his lone touchdown — on plays in which he either rolled out or scrambled, according to PFF. He was also pressured on 16 total dropbacks, while one pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage.
"For us, we just knew how good Allen was when he got out of the pocket," said Paye, who logged a sack for a second straight week on Sunday. "So for us, we were just like, 'Man, we want to keep him inside and make those throws,' because, he's a good quarterback, but he's an even better better quarterback once he escapes. So that was our big thing."
The path doesn't get any easier from here for the Colts' defense. Next week, Indy plays host to defending Super Bowl champion Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
But after such a solid performance against one of the best offenses and quarterbacks in the league on Sunday, there's no reason why the Colts can't keep it rolling from here on that side of the ball.
"Me, myself, and including the defense, we wanted to show who the better defense was, especially us being in the AFC," Moore II told Colts.com's Larra Overton after the game. "We have a lot of respect for them — they have a lot of great players on their defense — but we wanted to show that we have our own playmakers, we have our own guys who can come up big. And I think we did that today."
See all the action at Highmark Stadium as the Indianapolis Colts face the Buffalo Bills in Week 11.