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Colts coaches Frank Reich, Matt Eberflus working well together

By
Phillip B. Wilson,The Sports Xchange
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) drops back to pass against the Oakland Raiders in the first quarter on October 28 at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) drops back to pass against the Oakland Raiders in the first quarter on October 28 at the Coliseum in Oakland, Calif. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

INDIANAPOLIS -- Matt Eberflus and Frank Reich didn't know each other before joining the Indianapolis Colts coaching staff this season.

But Reich, as head coach, received a strong endorsement from general manager Chris Ballard about Eberflus, who had been hired as defensive coordinator before Reich's arrival.

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Eberflus will be more in the spotlight this week as the former Dallas assistant coach will devise a game plan for his young defense to try to snap the Cowboys' five-game win streak in a game Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Colts (7-6) are coming off a 24-21 road win over AFC South Division leader Houston. The Cowboys (8-5) defeated NFC East rival Philadelphia 29-23 at home in overtime.

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"Chris was very persuasive and very strong in his conviction that Matt was the right guy," Reich said of Eberflus. "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.

"Personally, Matt, I just have a lot of respect for him. (His) high character and integrity as a person -- just stands for everything that we would want -- carries himself the way we would want a coach to carry himself."

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On a Colts roster where twice as much money has been spent on offense, Eberflus has made the most of having young, athletic players. The Colts had five sacks and nine tackles for loss against the Texans, who had their nine-game winning streak snapped.

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The Colts defense is 11th in fewest yards allowed and 15th in points allowed, rankings that have gradually improved during the season. A key component has been linebacker Darius Leonard, one of the leading Rookie of the Year candidates with an NFL-best 135 total tackles, 17 more than any other player in the league.

Eberflus preaches speed and grades his defensive players in a strict system that includes docking them for plays when they don't give the maximum effort. Reich was asked about how his players have bought into that.

"I just think a lot of that is Matt's personality and his unwavering conviction and belief in what we're doing and in the players that we are doing it with," Reich said. "It's a system that is proven, but the attitude and the approach is proven and I just think Flus really embodies that. I think he embodies that. I think it's very authentic and I think the guys see and feel that. I think that's a big part of the reason. I think that's a big reason why."

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The Colts kept their playoff hopes alive with Sunday's road win. They're tied with Baltimore, Miami and Tennessee for the sixth and final AFC playoff berth. Each December game is magnified in importance. The Cowboys have a two-game lead in the NFC East and can clinch the division title with a win coupled by losses by Philadelphia and Washington.

"(I'm) just really proud of how the guys came out and fought," Reich said of how the underdog Colts played at Houston. "As we said yesterday, just a lot of confidence going into the game. It's really founded on the hard work and the process-oriented approach.

"Now looking forward to keeping that same mindset and attitude coming back home to Lucas Oil (Stadium) against another hot team in the Dallas Cowboys. (They're) on a win streak of their own, so it will be a good test for us."

--Defensive tackle Denico Autry, who has had to overcome nagging injuries for more than half of the season, has been the Colts best pass rusher of late with five sacks in the past two games. He had two more on Sunday to boost his team-leading total to eight. Autry had 10.5 sacks in four seasons with Oakland. Signed by the Colts to a three-year, $17.8 million contract as a free agent, he's amassed his eight sacks this season in just nine games.

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--Quarterback Andrew Luck received the second-highest grade at his position by Pro Football Focus after completing 27 of 41 passes for 399 yards with two TDs and one interception (a tipped pass that should have been caught). The 399 yards are the third most in his seven-year career. He passed for a career-high 464 yards in a September loss to the Texans. Luck has had a passer rating better than 100 in six of his last seven starts.

--Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton continued his trend of monster games against the Texans with nine receptions for a season-high 199 yards. In 14 career starts against the Texans, Hilton has 76 receptions for 1,445 yards and nine TDs. "Like everybody says, this is my second home," the Floridian said of Houston.

--LB Darius Leonard padded his league-leading tackle total with 12 stops against Houston and had his seventh sack of the season as well as an impressive pass defense against Texans Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

--Eric Ebron set a franchise record for tight ends with his 12th TD reception, breaking the previous mark set by Dallas Clark in 2007. He has 13 scores overall, counting a scoring run. In four previous seasons with Detroit, Ebron had 11 TD receptions and one scoring rush. --Defensive end Jabaal Sheard led the defensive line with six tackles, including four solos and two for losses.

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