INDIANAPOLIS — Matt Eberflus cycled through his rolodex of defensive calls during the fourth quarter Monday night, but nothing the Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator dialed up could slow down Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson.
In a performance of historic proportions, Jackson finished 37-of-43 for 442 yards and four touchdowns as the Ravens (4-1) rallied past Indianapolis (1-4) 31-25 in overtime. The Colts’ epic collapse included surrendering touchdowns on four consecutive possessions and giving up a pair of 2-point conversions.
Baltimore trailed 22-3 with 3:06 remaining in the third quarter before Jackson caught fire. Nothing Indianapolis threw at him could extinguish the flame.
“When things don’t work, you always go back and look and say, ‘Hey, what could we have done better schematically to put our players in position to make the plays?’ ” Eberflus said Tuesday. “In the course of those drives, obviously we tried various things in those drives where we had in our two-minute menu, our third-down menu that we were using there. We had simulated pressures. We had zone pressures that were two-high. We had zone pressures that were single-high. We rushed four, played quarters. We played quarter-quarter half. We did those variations in those things. With that quarterback, a lot of times what will happen is he extends the plays, and guys start to work open. That happens a few times, several times. So we just have to do better.
“We have to do better as coaches. We have to do a better job of setting guys in position. We always do that when things don’t work. That’s what you do as a coach. How can I put my guys in a better position to make the plays that they need to? We have tremendous talent on the field. I believe in our players. They do an outstanding job of working. Their work ethic and what they did during the week was outstanding. You’ve got a lot of playmakers out there from Darius (Leonard), to Buck (DeForest Buckner), to Kenny (Moore II), to a bunch of guys out there. Everybody out there is really a playmaker, but those guys are certainly that. So we’ve got to do a better job as coaches putting them in position.”
Struggles against the pass have been a season-long theme for the Colts. Indianapolis has given up an NFL-high 15 touchdown pass and ranks 29th in the league with an average of 8 yards surrendered per attempt.
The problems have been most apparent in hurry-up situations, particularly at the end of halves or games. The Colts survived a two-touchdown fourth-quarter onslaught from former teammate Jacoby Brissett during a 27-17 win against the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 3, but they were not so fortunate against the Ravens.
Head coach Frank Reich had a long conversation with Eberflus specifically centered around the late-game struggles over the past two weeks.
“You could say we’ve played six dominant quarters of defensive football (in the last two games), but when we get in these ‘two-minute modes’ we’re struggling a little bit,” Reich said. “Your question (about schematic changes) is a very relevant one, it’s one we talked about this morning – Flus and I did — talking through what are some answers, what are some alternatives, what can we do better in those situations to put the players in better position? So that’s what we’ll be working on this week.”
Injuries undoubtedly have taken a toll.
Indianapolis entered Monday’s game without starting cornerback Rock Ya-Sin and rookie defensive end Kwity Paye. It then spent portions of the second half also playing without cornerbacks Xavier Rhodes and Isaiah Rodgers and safety Andrew Sendejo.
The decimated back end was exploited when Jackson hit wide receiver Marquise Brown for a 43-yard touchdown over rookie cornerback BoPete Keyes to jump start the comeback with 56 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
But tempo also played a big role. The Colts are hopeful Paye (hamstring) and fellow defensive end Isaac Rochell (illness) can return Sunday against the Houston Texans, allowing more fresh legs to be rotated in when the opposing offense forces the pace.
But it’s not just personnel Indianapolis will focus on for improvement.
Eberflus has steadily added depth and versatility to the true Tampa 2 scheme he learned under Rod Marinelli during seven seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, and he’ll continue tinkering. Indianapolis blitzed more often than usual against the Ravens and threw a variety of coverages at Jackson.
All of the deception and misdirection worked until it didn’t.
Despite popular opinion, the Colts’ scheme is not stagnant. There’s been a concerted effort to change with the modern passing game, and it remains a work in progress.
“The league evolves, you have to evolve with it,” Eberflus said. “I think (the newer elements) just matches up better with the college style that’s coming up to the NFL. That’s just really the onset of that. That’s really it — the genesis of (growing the scheme). We’re just going to keep evolving and changing, but also keeping in the rudiments of football.”