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Cowboys vs. Colts: “Matt Eberflus has been the perfect guy for this young defense”

We check in with Colts blog Stampede Blue for the intel on the Colts.

New Orleans Saints v Dallas Cowboys

As Cowboys fans prepare for the game with the Colts, we talk to experts to get the lowdown on Indianapolis. For that, we turn to Stampede Blue.

Blogging The Boys: Talk about our old friend Matt Eberflus and the impact he’s had on the Colts defense.

Stampede Blue: Eberflus has been the perfect guy to link with this young defense. They desperately needed a coach would would instill a culture of relentless effort and demand perfect execution. The beat writers have shared stories from players about how he tears them apart for “loafs” during film sessions, and how the demand for maximum effort has been something that has been transformative for players who were already a part of the Colts roster as well as the large crop of young guys who joined this year.

Ultimately, this is a defense that didn’t have any identity, or ability to do much of anything well before this year. They enter week 15 tied for 5th in yards per attempt against the run and tied with the Cowboys for 12th in sacks on the season. A lot of that is due to the collaboration between general manager Chris Ballard and Eberflus. They did a great job this offseason adding players both in free agency and the draft who are really good fits for the scheme they run.

There are a fair number of areas they’ll need to improve in the coming offseason for sure, but this is a very different defense than it has been in the past, and Eberflus deserves a lot of credit for that.

BTB: What is the identity of the Colts offense? Does it all revolve around Andrew Luck or is the scheme a big factor?

SB: It is a lot of both. Frank Reich has been instrumental in making this offense more efficient and effective, but ultimately it is Andrew Luck who makes it go. Luck has been forced largely to stand in the pocket and get hit so that the Colts could take deep shots to T.Y. Hilton throughout his career. Those days are gone.

Reich has created an offense that gets receivers and tight ends open so that Luck can throw the ball consistently when he hits the back of his drop, which has meant shorter passes, but also it has helped keep him upright to the tune of 2nd in the league in sacks allowed despite the 2nd most pass attempts. The scheme has been important for sure, since the receiving talent outside of T.Y. Hilton is pretty middling,

The real identity that has begun to form outside of Luck for this offense has been the play of the offensive line. The addition of Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith through the draft and Mark Glowinski as a free agent has transformed them into a unit that takes pride in protecting Luck and has the ability to actually do it. The best part of that is the fact that this line is very young. The only guy older than 26 is Anthony Castonzo, their left tackle. This line should be very good for a long time to come.

BTB: Sounds like both teams have star rookie linebackers. What makes Darius Leonard special?

SB: Darius Leonard is special for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is how quickly and seamlessly he has been able to elevate his game from the FCS to the NFL and establish himself as one of the best linebackers in the league.

He has all the qualities you want in a WILL linebacker, great instincts, speed, and range to close to the ball. If you watch his film, the guy is all motor, constantly putting himself near the ball and in position to make plays. His ability to read and react has been a major factor in getting him so many tackles for loss, and when he tackles the ball carrier he nearly always is using one arm to tackle and the other to punch at the ball.

Darius Leonard wants the football, and if ball carriers aren’t careful to secure it, he’ll do his best to take it away. His 4 forced fumbles didn’t happen by accident, they’re the result of a very concerted effort to produce turnovers. Additionally, he has proven himself very effective when asked to blitz. He has 7 sacks on the season as a result, despite the Colts blitzing less than any team in the league.

Ultimately, what he brings is that it factor that truly great players have that gives the whole team the belief that when the chips are down, he can make a big play to turn the game around. When you factor the level of competition he comes from and his age, it is tough not to get really excited about just how good this guy could be given time to continue to develop and grow.

BTB: Fill us in on the injury situation. Who do you think will play, who won’t, and how might that affect the game?

SB: There are a few names making appearances on the injury report this week that might generate some concern. T.Y. Hilton hasn’t practiced yet this week after he tweaked his ankle against the Texans. I wouldn’t count on him missing the game Sunday though, because he hung more than 199 yards on the Texans and more than half of them came after he hurt his ankle. He didn’t practice until Friday of last week either, but he is a veteran and has great rapport with Andrew Luck, so he is able to be ready on game day without a lot of practice reps through the week.

The big return could be that of center Ryan Kelly. Kelly has been having a pro bowl type year and is the leader on the offensive line. If he is back this line is better all the way around and it greatly improves the team’s ability to move the ball on the ground.

Unfortunately, along with the good news along the offensive line comes the bad. Mark Glowinski, the right guard, had a rough week last week tweaking his ankle. He has been the team’s best pulling lineman and missing him would hurt, but the depth behind him is good enough that they could hold up well in his absence.

The safety position is pretty beat up for the Colts with both Clayton Geathers and Mike Mitchell hurt at the strong safety position. Geathers practiced in a limited capacity today though, which is encouraging. The Colts will need that group healthy and on their game to help limit big plays from Cooper and Gallup. Hopefully the combination of Geathers and Malik Hooker are healthy and ready to go on game day.

BTB: How will it play out on Sunday? What is your prediction for game flow and final score?

SB: I think this is actually a really good matchup that should produce a fun game to watch. It starts with the coaching staff. Frank Reich and Matt Eberflus know the Cowboys personnel and tendencies very well, which gives them an advantage in terms of preparation over the typical out of conference game.

Given their success blitzing the quarterback over the past few weeks, I expect Eberflus to dial them up early in the game on third downs to try to rattle Dak Prescott and create an opportunity for a fumble. They were able to minimize the impact of DeAndre Hopkins last week with cornerback Pierre Desir shadowing him most of the game, and I expect something similar will happen with Cooper this week.

The Colts enter with one of the better run defenses against one of the best running backs in football. If they can limit Elliott’s ability to take over the game and lead the Cowboys on long drives, it will be a win for them.

Ultimately, I think this game will come down to the effectiveness of Andrew Luck and the offense. Frank Reich will look to get the tight ends involved early to capitalize on the Colts’ talent there and gets some easy looks to get the offense humming. When they get out to a fast start, they are tough to hang with.

With the exception of the aberration that was their shutout loss to Jacksonville, the Colts have been able to put up points all season long, averaging 26.8 points per game. Andrew Luck is playing at a ridiculous level that would likely have him as a front runner for league MVP if Patrick Mahomes and Drew Brees weren’t having such ridiculously good seasons.

At home in a game they desperately need to win, I’ll take Andrew Luck and the Colts in a close one.

27-24 Colts

Thanks for the knowledge, Stampede Blue.

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