Colts cornerback Shakial Taylor punches the ball out of Travis Kelce's hands in a 2019 game.

Colts Defense Finally Plays More Man Coverage, Stifles Chiefs Attack

Joe Robbins | Getty Images

INDIANAPOLIS – It is something that many have been clamoring for, in the Colts trying to find defensive improvements.

Not only did those adjustments finally come on Sunday, they led to a historic defensive performance from Matt Eberflus and the Colts.

According to Pro Football Focus, the Colts used a man coverage rate 73.3{6b2ff7b5569ff897856daea25146c3aa8bbdaa11543b2f3ed231dcc2b0b9fe17} percent of the time against the Chiefs. Before Sunday, the previous high man coverage rate used by Eberflus in his 23 games as Colts defensive coordinator was 25.6 percent, back in the 2019 season opener against the Chargers.

It was a massive change for a defense that is more reliant on zone coverage than any other in the NFL.

And it worked beautifully.

“Just trying to disrupt timing a little bit and play a little bit tighter coverage,” Frank Reich said of the new defensive approach against the Chiefs. “Not give much space, but try to disrupt timing and coverage. We felt pretty good about some of our matchups up front.”

From the opening series, the Colts brought their corners right up to the line of scrimmage. Windows became tighter for Mahomes to fit the ball into, and the Colts were extremely competitive in making plays on the ball when those moments of truth arrived between pass catcher and defender.

With the Colts feeling confident in winning some one-on-one matchups up front, the defensive line benefitted from the stickier coverage used from those behind them.

The Colts knew the potential risk of playing so much man, especially with inexperienced safeties starting in Khari Willis and George Odum.

But with the Chiefs missing Tyreek Hill and Sammy Watkins, the KC receiver group lacked the elite wideout. And the Colts then did an outstanding job in quieting All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce (4 catches on 10 targets, none during the 2nd or 3rd quarter).

“If you do that and you’re not right then you can look bad in a hurry,” Reich acknowledges. “If you’re going to be up trying to disrupt and they get a clean release – that’s the give and take. That was just the risk. I think Flus (Matt Eberflus) and the staff just really decided we were going to play a little tighter and a little bit more aggressive and the players executed it very well.”

Unlike a gripe many have, rightfully, had about the Indy defense under Eberflus, there was nothing soft about the coverages on Sunday.

Back in the offseason, Eberflus mentioned the need and desire in implementing some more man looks for his second-year defense. A guy like Rock Ya-Sin was drafted with that thinking, of diversifying the defensive looks.

It took 5 games into the 2019 season, but against the NFL’s MVP and the league’s most high-powered offensive attack, the Colts flourished in it.

In last year’s playoff loss to the Chiefs, the Colts employed the man coverage rate just 17 percent of the time. Mahomes and the Chiefs shredded them.

A change was a must.

Well, that man coverage number skyrocketed to 73 percent on Sunday.

And Mahomes, who completed just 56.4 percent of his passes against the Colts (the second lowest of his career), looked like a totally different QB against man versus zone.

Per PFF, Mahomes was 8-of-9 for 115 yards (12.8 YPA) and a TD against the Colts’ zone looks. Against man, Mahomes was just 12-of-28 for 186 yards (6.6 YPA).

The changes came and the results led to one of the greatest regular wins this franchise has ever seen.



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