INDIANAPOLIS —Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus spoke to the media today via video conference. What did he have to say about preparing for Sunday's opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars, how the defense plans to attack its lofty takeaways goal and why tackling will be a concern early on?
You can catch that entire session above, but here are some top takeaways:
» The Colts are going to lean on a talented defensive front to be a catalyst for their lofty takeaways goal this season: Linebacker Anthony Walker told reporters last week that the Colts' defense has a big goal for the year: get 40 takeaways as a group. It's not like the Colts struggled in this area last season — they finished tied for 10th in the NFL with 23 takeaways in 2019 — but perhaps more than ever there's an emphasis to not only swarm to the football, but to do everything you can to steal it.
If the Colts can achieve that goal, they'll be the first team to get at least 40 takeaways since 2012, when both the Chicago Bears (44) and New England Patriots (41) reached that figure. The Carolina Panthers in 2015 and Seattle Seahawks in 2013, respectively, got close with 39 takeaways, and the Pittsburgh Steelers led the NFL last year with 38.
For Eberflus, the whole turnover process begins up front. If the defense can apply enough consistent pressure on the quarterback, then seemingly the takeaways just naturally happen from there — whether by an opportunistic pass rusher or by a defensive back snagging an interception in the back end.
That's why Eberflus is so excited about the Colts' defensive front, especially with the addition of a known disruptor like DeForest Buckner.
"We've looked at those numbers in the past; those takeaways happened in the pocket most of the time," Eberflus said. "We're excited about our front this year and going forward.
"If you look at all the takeaways in the course of the last year — which we do, we look at those — it's going to be a combination of rush and cover, cover and rush and then also pressure," Eberflus continued "A lot of times it's a really good player beating another player and making a play on the football in the pocket. So that's the talent level on the D-line and the coaching over there. So it'll be that way pretty much for every team."
» The Colts' defensive coaches have been doing plenty of studying to get introduced to a new offensive coordinator and staff in Jacksonville: Playing a divisional opponent in the season opener could be considered an advantage for either side, just because of the general sense of familiarity there is for a foe you're used to seeing two times a year.
That's no different for Eberflus and the Colts' defense, which is preparing to take on the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday in their 2020 season opener at TIAA Bank Field.
But while the Jaguars do have a few notable returners on offense — guys like quarterback Gardner Minshew II, wide receiver DJ Chark Jr. and an experienced offensive line — there is still a sense of starting over from a preparation standpoint, simply because of all the turnover on the offensive side of the ball from a coaching perspective.
The Jaguars return head coach Doug Marrone, but have added a new offensive coordinator (Jay Gruden) and quarterbacks coach (Ben McAdoo).
Fortunately for the Colts, Eberflus is very familiar with both Gruden and McAdoo; Eberflus was passing game coordinator/linebackers coach with the Dallas Cowboys during both Gruden and McAdoo's tenures as head coach of the division rival Washington Football Team and New York Giants, respectively.
"You pull out all the tape that you have on a particular coordinator, particular line coach — whoever's on their staff. This is always a little bit difficult when you're playing a new guy. But we have some experience," Eberflus said. "Jay's been in the league a while and has done an excellent job as the coordinator, and he's certainly tough to defend. So you just pull on all the things you can and try to paint a picture for your players of what you're going to get done for the game."
» Tackling is "definitely a concern" for the Indy defense heading into Week 1: Tackling is actually always a concern for a defensive coordinator, especially entering the season. NFL teams do considerably less actual tackling during training camp, so preseason games are really the only opportunity for defenders to get consistent live reps to work on their techniques.
But the preseason games weren't an option this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So while the Colts did have a couple "live" periods during their two camp scrimmages at Lucas Oil Stadium, Sunday's opener against the Jaguars will really be the defense's first opportunity to go out and actually hit somebody.
"We did tackle live in our scrimmages at times, we had live tackling drills at times, so we feel like we're prepared for it," Eberflus said. "But again, when the game's snapped, we have to do a great job of sticking to our fundamentals and details and our good angles, and being on top of that as we go. So definitely a concern, and we're gonna work on it again this week."