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Matt Eberflus On Xavier Rhodes' Resurgence, Darius Leonard's Return, First-Half Issues

Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus today spoke to local reporters via video conference. What did he have to say about the resurgence of veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes, why he’s excited to see Darius Leonard return to the lineup, what he’s noticed in his team’s first-half struggles of late and more?

INDIANAPOLIS — Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus today spoke to local reporters via video conference. What did he have to say about the resurgence of veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes, why he's excited to see Darius Leonard return to the lineup, what he's noticed in his team's first-half struggles of late and more?

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

» Xavier Rhodes has displayed tremendous instincts in his first six games with the Colts: Rhodes, who signed a reported one-year free agent deal with the Colts this offseason, has certainly had the makings of a career resurgence through Indy's first six games.

A three-time Pro Bowler and one-time First-Team All-Pro selection with the Minnesota Vikings, where he spent the first seven years of his career, Rhodes had admitted that, for various reasons, he didn't play as well as he would've liked the last couple years. That tune has certainly changed now that he's with the Colts.

According to Pro Football Focus, Rhodes in 2019 had a coverage grade of 45.3, allowed an 85.3 percent catch rate and a 131.1 passer rating in coverage. This year, through the first five games, PFF had Rhodes with a 79.7-percent coverage grade and a 42.9-percent catch rate and 45.2 passer rating allowed.

In all, Rhodes has 12 tackles, two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) and eight passes defensed.

"He is continuing to work on really everything – from the consistency in practice, which he is doing really good with, his techniques and the fundamentals that the defense requires for the call," Eberflus said of Rhodes. "I think he is doing really well in terms of that."

Eberflus said Rhodes has done everything the Colts' defense requires of its cornerbacks really well: quickness, instinct and tackling ability.

"He has that and you can see that throughout the course of the weeks," Eberflus said. "He's had some plays where he could have had some bigger splash plays he could've made too. We're focusing on those because we expect those out of him."

» Getting Darius Leonard back will add a needed "presence" for the defense: The two-time All-Pro Leonard went down with a groin injury just before halftime of the Colts' Week 4 win over the Chicago Bears, and has missed Indy's last two games against the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals.

After resting up during the bye week, Leonard could possibly return this Sunday, when the Colts head to Detroit to take on the Lions in their Week 8 matchup at Ford Field.

With Leonard out the last 2.5 games, the Colts have mostly turned to Bobby Okereke, Anthony Walker and Zaire Franklin at the linebacker position, and the trio has responded well, to the tune of 57 combined tackles (two for a loss) with two interceptions and five passes defensed over the course of the last three contests.

But Eberflus said getting Leonard back should be a much-needed shot in the arm for the defense, and the team, as a whole.

"Him being in there in practice, his presence in practice, his emotion, his passion certainly is contagious and we all know that, He is contagious for the entire building when he is in the locker room and on the practice field. So that's No. 1 — his passion and the enthusiasm he brings every single day because this guy comes to work every single day," Eberflus said of Leonard. "his guy is one of our hardest workers, if not the hardest worker on the practice field and he brings it. He means it when he brings it. So, it's coming from the heart with him and his presence on the football field certainly is felt as well.

"Obviously, we have him standing right over the football on the hash right there over the quarterback, and that's by design because we feel he is one of our premier player," Eberflus continued. "He is a definite presence in the run and pass game so we are excited to get him back."

» First-half issues the last couple games have boiled down to all-around execution: While the Colts have had one of the best overall defensive units in the NFL through the first seven weeks of the season, the team has had to battle back through some major issues on that side of the ball through the first two quarters of its last two games against the Cleveland Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Against the Browns, the Colts allowed 20 points, 284 yards and 16 first downs in the first two quarters; against the Bengals, the Colts allowed 24 points, 230 yards and 13 first downs over that same span.

Fortunately for Eberflus' bunch, the Indy defense picked it up considerably over the final two quarters. Against Cleveland, the Colts allowed just 12 points, 101 yards and six first downs in the third and fourth quarters; against Cincinnati, the Colts allowed just three points, 168 yards and nine first downs in the second half.

While some have mentioned general "miscommunication" issues as the primary problem over the first two quarters the last couple games, Eberflus wanted to clarify that the coaches and players are all on the same page in terms of what the play calls have been from play to play.

In general, it's the execution of those play calls that has been the issue.

"That's coach and player and player and coach." Eberflus said. "It's not like the guys are out there saying, 'Hey, we're making this call,' and all of a sudden they say, 'I didn't know it was that call.' That's not what's going on. We have to make sure we are executing the call and the technique that's required for the call. That's again, focus by coach and player during the course of the week and making sure we do that and that's also on me to make sure it is set up that way. We accept all responsibilities player coach, coach and player and we are going to improve on that going forward."

Overall as a defensive unit, the Colts head into Sunday's game against the Lions ranked second in yards allowed (288.0 per game) and yards per play allowed (4.83), third in rushing yards allowed (88.3 per game), second in passing yards allowed (199.7 per game), first in interception percentage (5.15), third in first downs allowed (17.3 per game) and fourth in points allowed per game (19.2).

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