INDIANAPOLIS — It’s not that Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was necessarily at a loss for words.
As Colts general manager Chris Ballard and head coach Frank Reich discussed the possible March trade to acquire All-Pro defensive tackle DeForest Buckner from San Francisco, Eberflus didn’t need to say much.
His two cents required two words.
“‘Yes,’ and, ‘Yes,’” an amused Eberflus said in a Monday Zoom video conference call. “So I was excited when (Ballard) started to talk about getting DeForest and acquiring him. There was not any hesitation.”
That’s how highly respected Buckner is as one of the NFL’s best three-technique defensive tackles. And as Ballard, Reich, and Eberflus have repeatedly said after consummating the trade for the 13th overall pick, the three-technique tackle spot drives the Colts defense. Adding a cornerstone to the defense frees up the rest of the line as well as linebackers to make more plays.
Buckner, 26, is equally adept at rushing the passer and stopping the run. In four seasons, he has 263 total tackles and 28.5 sacks. Turn on the tape from Super Bowl LIV and watch Buckner dominate with 1.5 sacks.
“When we first started talking about it early on, I went and watched a few games – some of the playoff games and went back and watched some of the earlier games because we’ve seen him over the years,” Eberflus said. “We saw when he came out, you see him over the years because of obviously crossover tapes. Obviously, being in the league you see him.
“What is amazing to me is what he has done in terms of play – the percentage, I mean we are talking about high-80s, 90 percent of playtime. The guy just plays and he loves to play football. A couple of the guys that I know that have been around him contacted us right afterward and said, ‘You have no idea what you are getting in terms of a practice player, in terms of a leader and the impact he is going to have on your football team.’”
Eberflus couldn’t have been more affirmative.
“From A to Z,” he said, “we were like, ‘Yes,’ and again, ‘Yes.’”
A defense that played several young players in 2019 took a step back in several key statistics after a late-season fade that saw opponents average 35.5 points in the Colts’ last four losses. After improving to 11th in total defense, eighth against the run, 16th against the pass and 10th in points allowed in 2018, the Colts were 16th, 16th, 23rd, and 18th in those categories last season.
Eberflus, entering his third season, sees enough pieces in place to be optimistic about dramatic improvement in 2020. That starts with having Buckner front and center of that line. All-Pro weakside linebacker Darius Leonard couldn't be more excited about being freed up to deliver more impact plays.
“Getting a guy like DeForest (Buckner), you ask the question when we got him in terms of, ‘Hey, if we could draft ‘X’ player or this other player at 13 or would you rather have DeForest Buckner?’” he said. “I’m going, ‘Well at least you know what you are getting with DeForest.’ Exactly what you’re getting – you’re getting a Pro-Bowl talent, a high-level player that has dominated his position.
“So the trickle-down effect to answer that is whenever you have a defensive line – DeForest, Justin (Houston) and different guys up front – that can dominate their spot up front, it is easier to play linebacker and easier to play in coverage because everything is sped up and the line of scrimmage is changing for the run game. So there are a lot of things that are beneficial in having a really good 3-technique. I know that we have talked about that as a franchise. I know it is so important to be able to have that.”
(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)