INDIANAPOLIS – It’s very simple in Anthony Walker’s mind.
The Indianapolis Colts defensive struggles in the season opener are the result of highly correctable errors. And it’s up to each individual player to make the necessary fixes this week in practice.
“We’ve gotta get guys flying to the ball,” Walker said. “These are NFL guys, so you’re not gonna just pull them down with one person. You gotta get all 11 (defenders) to the ball. So we just gotta keep doing that. Better technique when we’re tackling, and everybody has to help each other.”
There were some positives in the 30-24 overtime loss against the Los Angeles Chargers. The pass rush produced four sacks and had a fifth called back because of a razor-thin offsides penalty. Safety Malik Hooker also forced a critical takeaway with a one-handed interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter to give the offense a chance to tie the game.
But there’s obviously plenty of room for improvement.
It starts with tackling, a hallmark of Indianapolis’ defense in its first season under coordinator Matt Eberflus last year.
Sloppy technique led to a day on which L.A. averaged 6 yards per rushing attempt and running back Austin Ekeler caught six passes out of the backfield for 96 yards and two touchdowns.
A 55-yard score in the third quarter was particularly galling as several defenders missed tackles while attempting to rip the football out of Ekeler’s grasp.
Eberflus said it’s not uncommon to see tackling issues in Week 1 when many players are going live for the first time. Correcting that flaw is a matter of fundamentals.
“To me, it really comes down to a few things,” he said. “The angle which you pursue when you’re going to tackle, and then it’s technique and desire after that. You’ve gotta take pride in your tackling ability as a player. When you tackle a guy and you wrap him up, then I drive my feet and then the guy should be where he is. So I think that’s important on the individual level.”
It’s an issue the Colts will need to find a solution for quickly.
Next on the schedule are the Tennessee Titans and power running back Derrick Henry. The former Alabama star ranks fourth in the NFL after Week 1 after rushing 19 times for 84 yards and a touchdown in a blowout win against the Cleveland Browns.
Failing to take the proper angle or drive through the tackle against Henry will lead to disastrous results.
“They’ve got a lot of weapons,” Walker said. “They’re an NFL team as well. They have a lot of guys that can make plays, Henry at running back and (Marcus) Mariota at quarterback, lot of receivers, good offensive line and everything like that. Again, but I think if we’re fundamentally sound, we’ll be able to play with anyone.”
GOING FOR 2
There was little doubt Indianapolis was going to run the ball on the 2-point conversion that tied Sunday’s game with 38 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The offensive line continued the incredible push it got throughout the second half, and Marlon Mack used a little second effort to push the ball across the goal line.
But the unsung hero of the play was wide receiver Zach Pascal.
“Zach Pascal had a block on a linebacker on that play that is incredible,” offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said Tuesday. “I told Zach today, hopefully he knows that’s the biggest compliment I could give him, I said, ‘I hope Jacob Sirianni, my son, plays football like you do.’
“And I made it very clear to the offensive line that my son’s not going to be built like them. So I mentioned it to Zach first, and Zach was incredible on that play.”
Pascal removed L.A.’s Kyzir White from the play with a block that moved the linebacker horizontally across the line of scrimmage and finished with the wide receiver driving him into the ground.
Cornerback Kenny Moore admitted he wasn’t completely comfortable playing Sunday with his right hand in a cast.
But it’s a skill the defender believes will improve with repetition.
“It takes some getting used to, as far as going live, because you don’t get that chance in practice,” Moore said. “But it’s no slow up for me mentally or physically. You just gotta improvise and make plays.”