INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus talked to reporters via video conference on Monday. What did he have to say about preparing for speedy Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, cranking up the blitzes against the Detroit Lions, Tyquan Lewis taking advantage of his reps and more?
You can catch that entire session above, but here are some top takeaways:
» It's impossible to replicate Lamar Jackson's speed in practice: The Colts this Sunday take on the Baltimore Ravens in their Week 9 matchup, pitting two talented 5-2 teams against each other at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Ravens, of course, feature reigning NFL Most Valuable Player Lamar Jackson on offense, who is one of the fastest quarterbacks in league history.
While Jackson proved last season he can be outstanding as a passer, it's his running ability that really strikes fear into opposing defenses. Last season Jackson had 176 rushing attempts for 1,206 yards — for a league-leading 6.9 yards-per-carry average — and had seven scores on the ground; this season, Jackson is at 66 rushing attempts for 411 yards (6.2 avg.) and he has two rushing scores.
And while Eberflus said the Colts' scout team offense does a terrific job each week giving the defense accurate looks at the upcoming opponent, good luck trying to replicate Jackson's running abilities this week in practice.
"You don't, you really can't. You can't really replicate that or the speed of it," Eberflus said. "That's typical of every week but it's more so this week because of the different ways they run the football with the option phases to it and all that. We'll do the best we can. We'll have different guys in there at different times and we'll do the best we can."
So facing Jackson will be a challenge, for sure, but Eberflus also knows he's got speed on his side, too.
"When you're dealing with a guy that can run all phases of the running game from A to Z, it's always a challenge," Eberflus said. "A guy that can run that fast, can run sideline to sideline, can run inside the tackles – it's a big challenge for us and we're going to need all of our team's speed this week."
» The Colts utilized exponentially more blitzes in the win over the Lions: According to Pro Football Focus, the Colts blitzed in some fashion 21 times on 49 total dropbacks (42.9 percent) last Sunday against the Detroit Lions.
On those plays, quarterback Matthew Stafford completed 8-of-18 passes for 77 yards with a touchdown and an interception that was returned for a touchdown by cornerback Kenny Moore II, and was sacked three times, one of which resulted in a forced fumble by linebacker Darius Leonard that was recovered by defensive end Justin Houston, eventually leading to a Colts touchdown on the ensuing drive.
The heavy blitz emphasis against the Lions really stands out due to a lack of overall blitzing by the Colts to start the season, as Indy had utilized a blitz of some sort on just 43 combined dropbacks in its first six games of the year.
Eberflus said blitzing is just one part of the plan heading into each game, and that there are obviously positive and negative results that can come from sending extra defenders at the quarterback. But overall he was pleased with how his unit responded to the challenge of applying some extra pressure last Sunday.
"I just think that it's really what you think going into the game plan is going to be effective," Eberflus said. "We have a plan going into it and we decide, 'Hey, we're going to do this many pressures or that many pressures,' and sometimes that number goes up or down based on how your guys are humming, how things are going. You always have different packages of blitzes too – different coverage variations and different patterns that you want to run. Sometimes you run them late in the game like we did against Cincinnati and sometimes you run them early in the game like we did yesterday. I think you change it up by the down and distance and what you think is going to work that week."
» Tyquan Lewis took advantage in his first start of the season: Tyquan Lewis experienced quite the roller coaster in his first two seasons in the league. He had high expectations placed upon him when he was one of four second-round picks by the Colts in the 2018 — with the others being Darius Leonard, Braden Smith and Kemoko Turay — but then a toe injury would keep him on IR for the first half of his rookie season.
Lewis ended up putting in a solid second half to his rookie year, finishing with 2.0 sacks, three tackles for loss and eight quarterback hits, but last year would also be hampered by some injury issues, while also being a healthy scratch in some ballgames, and in just nine games overall, logged five tackles (one for a loss), one quarterback hit and no sacks.
Lewis said he changed his whole mindset this offseason heading into Year 3, while also working with a new defensive line coach in Brian Baker, who clearly saw some raw talent that just needed some refining when he popped in Lewis' game film from his first two seasons.
Lewis was able to put it all together last Sunday against the Lions, finishing the game with three tackles (two for a loss), two sacks and a pass defensed.
Playing about 25 percent of the defensive snaps as part of a heavy rotation up front, Lewis this season already has 10 total tackles (four for a loss) with 3.5 sacks, four quarterback hits and one pass defensed.
While Eberflus said being healthy has been a major factor for Lewis this year, he's noticed an overall improvement in Lewis' effort and production in practice — Lewis was undoubtedly the most consistently productive defensive player throughout training camp — which is carrying over to games.
"I think he's progressing and understanding what works for him," Eberflus said of Lewis. "He's doing that in practice and he understands what his pass-rush move is and what his counter is and understanding how to play the run and utilizing his power and intensity that he needs to within his body. He's always been super smart. He's always known what to do in terms of his assignments and alignments. He can play all along the line, and we've never had an issue with that. He's just now starting to really blossom and work his body and his mind at the same time to be productive on the field."
Eberflus said the way things have been able to click for Lewis is "what we hope for all our players."
"We believe in every one of our players. We trust in them that they're working really hard and we drafted them to do that exact thing," Eberflus said. "We believe in (Lewis) and he's taken full advantage of the opportunities. His opportunities will be given this week (based) on how hard he works in practice and he's going to continue to grow. We're excited about Tyquan."