Colts defensive coordinator welcomes test against Cowboys
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Matt Eberflus spent seven seasons compiling information on the Dallas Cowboys.
This week, the Indianapolis Colts‘ first-year defensive coordinator has resorted to football’s version of insider trading.
He’s explained the challenges Indy’s defense faces Sunday against the Cowboys’ resurgent offense; gave Andrew Luck and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni the skinny on potential matchups; and is trying to help the Colts gain an advantage in a pivotal game. In the NFL, of course, it’s just business as usual.
“Am I familiar with the team? Yes, I am familiar with the team. Am I familiar with the coaches? Yup, a lot of them are my good friends,” Eberflus said. “So it’s a little bit different in that regard because I was with them so long, but in terms of preparation for the opponent, it’s really not that much different.”
Eberflus took a traditional path to his first job as the defensive signal caller.
He started as a student assistant and graduate assistant at the University of Toledo, moved on to Missouri and eventually became the linebackers coach in Dallas, where he worked under coordinators Rob Ryan, Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli. There he continued to hone his philosophy with the Tampa 2 defense.
But then things took a strange twist.
Eberflus was originally hired by Josh McDaniels, who later reneged on his agreement to take Indy’s head coaching job last winter. General manager Chris Ballard insisted all three coaches McDaniels hired would remain on the next coach’s staff.
So when Frank Reich first became a candidate, he started doing some background work and received nothing but rave reviews.
“Chris’ endorsement was really strong,” Reich said. “Chris was very persuasive and very strong in his conviction that Matt was the right guy. It really couldn’t have worked out any better. I know it’s crazy. It’s really an odd way for it to come together, but it literally couldn’t have come together any better.”
Now, the Colts’ stock is surging.
In less than one season, Eberflus has taken Indy’s oft-maligned defense from No. 30 in the league to No. 11. The Colts (7-6) already have 10 more sacks than they did all of last season and find themselves ranked among the league’s top 10 in tackles for loss, negative plays and turnovers forced.
Linebacker Darius Leonard leads the league in tackles (135) and is on pace to break the league’s record for a rookie even though he missed one game with an injury. Defensive lineman Denico Autry has five sacks in the last two games and many believe Eberflus has been one of the primary reasons behind the turnaround.
“He came in and was like, ‘This is probably going to be one of the hardest things you do. Just flying around to the ball it’s easy to say it, but it’s going to be hard to do it every down,'” safety Clayton Geathers said earlier this week. “That’s what it was, holding everybody accountable. I’m very impressed with the defense, how he’s holding everybody accountable and everybody just flying around to the ball.”
As a result, Indy (7-6) rebounded from a 1-5 start by winning six of its last seven games and is now part of a four-way tie with Baltimore, Miami and Tennessee for the AFC’s sixth and final playoff spot.
Luck and tight end Eric Ebron are having the best seasons of their careers, receiver T.Y. Hilton looks like he’ll make another Pro Bowl, and a win Sunday against the NFC East-leading Dallas (8-5) could go a long way in helping the Colts end a three-year playoff drought.
So while the Colts have some detailed information about what the Cowboys will do, Cowboys coach Jason Garrett also hopes to exploit his keen sense of what Eberflus may try, too.
“You run into these things a lot in football where you’ve had someone in the organization go somewhere else — division opponents and all that kind of stuff,” Garrett said. “So it typically cuts both ways, but really happy for Matt (and) the job he is doing there.”
NOTES: Colts center Ryan Kelly was limited in practice Wednesday but hopes to return to the lineup against Dallas. He’s missed three consecutive games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee. If he can’t play, Evan Boehm will likely remain in the starting lineup. … Geathers, safety Mike Mitchell (calf), right guard Mark Glowinski (ankle) and Hilton (ankle) all missed practice Wednesday. … Tight end Mo Alie-Cox (calf), safety Malik Hooker (hip) and defensive tackle Margus Hunt (knee) all did limited work in practice. … After waiving tight end Erik Swoope on Tuesday, Reich called it a “tough move” on Wednesday.