Matt Eberflus On Improving In Pass Coverage, Stopping Vikings' Dalvin Cook

Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus today spoke to local reporters via video conference. What’s the latest on the defense’s effort to force more incompletions, why stopping Dalvin Cook is priority No. 1 this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, Xavier Rhodes being fired up to take on his former team and more?

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus today spoke to local reporters via video conference. What's the latest on the defense's effort to force more incompletions, why stopping Dalvin Cook is priority No. 1 this Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings, Xavier Rhodes being fired up to take on his former team and more?

You can listen to that entire session above, but here are some top takeaways:

» The Colts "have to improve" as a unit defensively to force more incomplete passes: In general, the Colts' defensive philosophy is to keep the ball in front of them and limit the big plays over the top, and then if opposing offenses get within the Indy 30-yard line, start to really put the clamps down and force, as worst, a field goal attempt. With this approach, matched with mostly zone coverage principles, this can lead to some high completion percentages for opposing quarterbacks who are willing to mostly dink and dunk their way down the field.

That's exactly what happened last Sunday in the Colts' 27-20 season-opening loss on the road to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Quarterback Gardnew Minshew II had just 173 passing yards on the day, but he was extremely efficient, completing 19 of his 20 pass attempts while also tossing three touchdowns.

After reviewing the game film, Eberflus said today he felt the Colts, for the most part, did a solid job up front against Minshew II, as evidenced by the nine times out of 20 pass attempts the quarterback was either sacked (four) or scrambled out of the pocket (five), but he also acknowledges how a 95-percent completion percentage isn't going to be acceptable, no matter what coverage you're playing.

"There's no question that we have to improve that, and we will improve that," Eberflus said. "We have confidence in our process, we have confidence in our players and we have confidence in our scheme, and there's no question that it has to improve — and it's going to improve. And we've just got to keep chipping away at it and we'll get better at it as we go."

Moving forward, Eberflus said it'll be important to "match receivers or reroute receivers in our pass defense."

» The Colts are still going to focus on stopping the run this week against Vikings Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook: While Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins is another high-percentage passer to prepare for — which will bring its own set of challenges — Eberflus said the No. 1 priority this week is putting a lid on Cook, the ultra-quick Vikings running back.

Cook is coming off a career year in 2019, when he ran for 1,135 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground and also hauled in 53 receptions for 519 yards through the air.

The Colts have been one of the league's best defenses against the run under Eberflus the last couple seasons, and they allowed just 91 total rushing yards last Sunday in their 2020 opener against the Jaguars. But Jacksonville did break out some big runs at times, especially in the first half, when they ran for 85 of their 91 total yards on the ground and averaged 6.1 yards per carry.

It'll be key, Eberflus said, to stop the run this week as effectively as the Colts did in the second half against the Jaguars, which is easier said than done against a guy like Cook, who had 12 rushing attempts for 50 yards and two touchdowns last Sunday in the Vikings' Week 1 loss to the Green Bay Packers.

"We've got to do a great job handling the run game, because everything runs through their halfback, and we know that with this group," Eberflus said. "It's going to be a big challenge for us going forward this week."

» Eberflus knows cornerback Xavier Rhodes is going to be fired up to play his old team on Sunday: Rhodes was the Vikings' first-round (25th-overall) pick back in the 2013 NFL Draft, and spent the first seven seasons of his NFL career in Minnesota before he was released by the team this offseason.

Rhodes developed into one of the better cover corners in the league throughout his time with the Vikings, where he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and in 2017 was named First-Team All-Pro.

With the Colts, Rhodes continues working with two of his former Vikings coaches in cornerbacks coach Jonathan Gannon and safeties coach Alan Williams to help him try to regain some of that All-Pro form from a few seasons ago. But make no mistake about it: Rhodes' familiarity with the Vikings' offense and its personnel should be key this week — not to mention the fact Rhodes will be fired up to exact a little revenge.

"Oh, I think he's excited," Eberflus said of Rhodes. "I think he's excited to get in there and excited to play against his old team. And, again, it comes down to the preparation and the focus and (being) wired in during practice."

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