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Matt Eberflus On Week 2 Defensive Improvements, Julian Blackmon's Debut, Sudden Change At Cornerback

Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus today spoke to local reporters via video conference. What's the latest on the team's defensive surge in its Week 2 victory, rookie safety Julian Blackmon's impressive debut, how the Colts quickly dealt with Rock Ya-Sin being inactive and more?

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus today spoke to local reporters via video conference. What's the latest on the team's defensive surge in its Week 2 victory, rookie safety Julian Blackmon's impressive debut, how the Colts quickly dealt with Rock Ya-Sin being inactive and more?

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

» The major improvements defensively from Game 1 to Game 2 simply came down to attention to detail and execution: The Colts' defense in their 2020 opener against the Jacksonville Jaguars allowed quarterback Gardner Minshew II to dink and dunk his way down the field all afternoon, as evidenced by his 19-of-20 passing completions; Indy also had plenty of miscommunications and other mental mistakes, as evidenced by Minshew II's three passing touchdowns.

But Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins would have no such luck last Sunday against the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium; he completed just 11-of-26 passes for 113 yards with zero touchdowns and three interceptions, while the Colts also shut down Pro Bowl running back Dalvin Cook, who had just 14 rushing attempts for 63 yards.

In all, the Indy defense not only had the three picks against the Vikings, but it limited Minnesota to just 175 yards of total offense, a 2-of-9 clip (22 percent) on third down, it logged three sacks, one of which forced a safety, it hit Cousins seven times and was credited with nine passes defensed.

Now all of a sudden, through two weeks, the Colts rank No. 1 in the league in total defense. So what was the difference between Week 1 and Week 2? It's more simple than you might think.

"The defense is always predicated on the principles of hustle, the intensity and taking the football away, and then being smart situationally, and that's been the foundation since we've been here," Eberflus said. "And I thought the players did a good job of executing the game plan, paying attention to detail and executing those foundational traits that we have in our defense.

"You know, this is the first time these guys played together, and Week 1, with live bullets and they're getting used to each other in terms of communicating and playing alongside of each other," Eberflus said. "So I thought they did a nice job, and it's really a tribute to the players and the coaches."

» Julian Blackmon's best traits were on full display in his NFL debut last Sunday: The Colts were ecstatic to be able to select Utah safety Julian Blackmon in the third round of this year's NFL Draft, because they knew they were getting a player with first-round talent who just required a little bit of patience due to the recovery and rehab work still ahead after he tore his ACL in December, requiring surgery.

General manager Chris Ballard first estimated back in April that Blackmon might be fully ready to go by October; over the next few months, however, the rate at which Blackmon was recovering and responding to his rehab work made it apparent that he might just be able to get back even sooner than that.

Blackmon was placed on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list at the start of training camp, meaning he couldn't participate in practice or even walkthroughs until his was activated. He was removed from NFI Aug. 31 and immediately given a limited role in practice, and after sitting out the opener against the Jaguars, Blackmon was finally able to make his NFL debut last Sunday against the Vikings.

Blackmon was all over the field for the Colts' defense, showing off both his cover skills and his physicality, as he finished with two jarring tackles and two passes defensed, the second of which came in coverage against Pro Bowl wide receiver Adam Thielen as Blackmon tipped the Cousins pass into the air right into the waiting hands of safety Khari Willis for the interception.

Blackmon, who logged 34 defensive snaps, was on a bit of a pitch count in his first NFL game, but what he did show in a limited role, coupled with the fact the team lost starting free safety Malik Hooker for the year last Sunday after he tore his Achilles, means the rookie could be in line for a much bigger role moving forward.

"Julian's in the process of getting his feet in there and getting himself squared away in terms of how he's playing the game. And Julian is a very mature young man, and he loves football, he's got passion for football and he's got a high skill level," Eberflus said. "So we saw those exact traits that we saw when Chris (Ballard) and the scouting staff selected him, along with the evaluations of everybody in the building. And we saw that (last Sunday), and that's really a tribute to him, of his maturity, how he stayed in the game in terms of when he was out."

» The defense did a solid job figuring it out with starting cornerback Rock Ya-Sin a last-minute addition to the inactives list against the Vikings: The inactives lists for each game are always due 90 minutes before kickoff, and the Colts found themselves needing to make a sudden change last Sunday with about five minutes to go when second-year cornerback Rock Ya-Sin was taken to a local hospital to be evaluated for what was initially described as a stomach illness.

The good news is Ya-Sin has since been released from the hospital; head coach Frank Reich said Monday that the cornerback was "diagnosed with a non-football-related illness," and that his immediate availability for this Sunday's Week 3 matchup against the New York Jets wasn't yet known.

But football-wise, the team last Sunday had to figure out how to account for the sudden loss of one of its starting cornerbacks. It was veteran Xavier Rhodes who got the start opposite usual starter Kenny Moore II, and Rhodes had a solid first half against his former team before exiting the ballgame with cramps.

Then it was on another veteran, T.J. Carrie, to step it up, and he finished with an interception and two passes defensed, while rookie Isaiah Rodgers also got into the mix, logging 18 defensive snaps and finishing with one pass defensed.

Eberflus said because his players had come into the season already mentally prepared for the possibility of sudden changes across the board, Sunday's situation with Ya-Sin just before kickoff wasn't that big of a deal.

"To me a lot of this is all about the setup; so it's about a mental and physical setup, so going into this year, we had the mantra and the mindset of, 'Hey, it's going to have to be next man up,'" Eberflus said. "We never know what's going to happen on gameday, 'cause a guy could test positive for COVID, he could have an injury-related thing, he could have a sickness — whatever that is. And so we set that up and we're always talking about having those guys ready to go, so it wasn't a big shocker to us. We just said, 'Hey, this guy is starting, this guy's gonna play.'"

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