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Matt Eberflus, Future Head Coach?

A deep dive into Matt Eberflus, where he comes from, what he does with the Colts defense, and his prospects as an NFL head coach.

Photo: Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Up next in the series of Bears head coaching candidates is Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. Previous reviews include:

Who is Matt Eberflus?

Matt Eberflus Toledo
Photo: Toledo Athletics

Matt Eberflus is 51 years old and currently serves as the defensive coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts. He was born in Toledo, Ohio, where he lived until graduating from college. After high school, Eberflus walked on to the Toledo football team. He saw three different head coaches in his four years of college (Dan Simrell, Nick Saban, and Gary Pinkel). Eberflus earned first-team All-MAC honors twice, was voted team MVP, and was named team captain his senior season. Earning his undergraduate degree in Education, he graduated in 1993 and entered the school’s hall of fame in 2004.

“As intense of a player as I’ve ever coached. He made himself great.”

– Former Toledo HC Dan Simrell on Matt Eberflus

Matt Eberflus’ Background

Coaching History: 

Eberflus has spent 13 years coaching at the NFL level and 15 years coaching on the college level.
Matt Eberflus’ Coaching Career

After graduating from college, Eberflus stayed in Toledo as a graduate assistant for the football team. He worked his way into the linebackers coach role while also taking on some recruiting responsibilities. After a few years as linebackers coach, Eberflus expanded his area of expertise, making a change to DB coach.

In 2001, Eberflus said goodbye to Toledo, where he had lived for his entire life, and followed Gary Pinkel to Missouri. At Mizzou, he served as defensive coordinator for eight seasons and the Tigers often ranked among the top defenses in the country under his guidance. By 2009, his coaching had caught the eye of the NFL as Eric Mangini was able to pull him away to be the Browns’ LB coach. However, Eberflus would only last two years in Cleveland as the staff was let go after the 2010 season.

Eberflus quickly landed on his feet, following defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to Dallas to continue his work with linebackers. After five years as the LB coach in Dallas, Eberflus took on an additional role: Defensive Passing Game Coordinator.

Over the next two years, he worked as defensive passing game coordinator and LB coach before getting a defensive coordinator job with the Colts under new head coach Josh McDaniels. Although McDaniels later reneged on the head coach position, Eberflus was retained by Colts’ new head coach Frank Reich. He has served as the Colts’ defensive coordinator since 2018.

Building a Coaching Staff:

Eberflus has an extensive network of offensive coaches but a surprisingly limited network of defensive coaches.
Matt Eberflus’ Coaching Network

The graphic above lists notable active coaches that Eberflus has coached with. I broke this down into offense and defense. Head coaches currently with NFL teams and unlikely to be fired are not included (i.e., Frank Reich, Nick Sirianni).

I found it interesting that a defensive-minded head coach has such a large network of offensive coaches, but a smaller network of defensive minds. After some further digging, I found that the staffs Eberflus worked with had little turnover. In Dallas, he coached with Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli. He also played for Nick Saban for one year in college.

Having the likes of Saban, Marinelli, and Kiffin included in your network instantly expands the possibilities due to the sheer number of secondary connections. Kiffin coached at the NFL level for 29 years. Meanwhile, Marinelli has spent 25 years in the league. Both coaches are closely linked to the Tony Dungy coaching tree.

Additionally, Eberflus spent seven years coaching under Gary Pinkel in the college ranks. That includes seven years at Toledo and eight years at Mizzou. However, information about those coaching staffs is limited, so I cannot expand on the network from college ranks.

Some potential names that could be brought up for the offensive coordinator position include:

  • Jason Garrett: Currently available, fired from Giants offensive coordinator position in 2021 season. Garrett has a background as a QB coach, offensive coordinator, and head coach.
  • Wes Phillips: Passing game coordinator for the Rams with a background coaching tight ends.
  • Bill Callahan: Offensive line coach for the Browns with a background as offensive line coach, offensive coordinator, and head coach.
  • Kevin Patullo: Passing game coordinator for the Eagles with a background coaching quarterbacks and wide receivers.

Matt Eberflus’ Defense

Defensive Philosophies

Lots of zone coverage with low blitz rates.
Matt Eberflus’ defensive statistics

H.I.T.S.

  • H: Hustle
  • I: Intensity
  • T: Taking the Ball Away
  • S: Smarts (Being situationally smart)

That is what Matt Eberflus is all about. The core principles of his defense are speed, hustle, and docking players that fail to meet the standards with “loafs”. When the coaching staff reviews and charts the film, they look to see how hard a player works. Their goal is for the players to be going full speed from snap to whistle. When players do not demonstrate full effort, they receive a “loaf” in front of teammates. This is a concept employed by Tony Dungy, Rod Marinelli, and Monte Kiffin.

In Eberflus’ first year with the Colts, this mentality even impacted the offensive side of the ball. After a few practices, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni realized his side had to match the intensity and aggression of the defense.

“Adapt or get exposed at practice. Yes, we hustle. Yes, we finish. But we put a (higher) standard on it after being with Flus for a little bit. The way they practice obviously makes us better. The reason I think we’re good at protecting the football is because of how crazy they are at coming after it. Not everybody practices that way.’’

– Former Colts Offensive Coordinator Nick Sirianni

Defensive Scheme

Okay. But that is just a mentality. What does Eberflus do schematically? He runs a 4-3 scheme that has similarities to Tony Dungy and Monte Kiffin’s Tampa 2 defenses of the 1990s. In Chicago, we are quite familiar with this type of system from Lovie Smith’s tenure as Bears head coach.

Eberflus does mix it up with Cover 3 and single-high safety looks, but his bread and butter is that Cover 2 concept. When blitzing, he likes to rely on man-to-man defense but might drop an EDGE player into a flat zone. However, the Colts do not blitz often, typically relying on their front four to generate pressure.

In this defense, coverage at the linebacker position is paramount. The MIKE linebacker is the most important player on the field. It is the MIKE’s job to diagnose the play, recognize his role as the lead run defender, or drop back into deep middle coverage. The MIKE covers a wide zone in the deep middle of the defense. In Indianapolis, this role is occupied by Bobby Okereke.

The coverages that Eberflus runs are primarily zone coverages. According to PFF, the Colts players were tasked with zone coverage on 77% of all coverage snaps, man coverage on 16% of snaps, and other indeterminable coverages on 7% of snaps.

However, in 2021, PFF has had a much more difficult time deciphering the Colts’ coverage responsibilities. For the 2021 season, the Colts are listed at zone coverage on 59% of snaps, man coverage on 22% of snaps, and other indeterminable coverages on 19% of snaps. The Colts rank second in indeterminable coverages in 2021, trailing only the Bears (29%).

Scheme vs. Roster?

The Tampa 2 defense comes down to keeping the ball in front of you and bend-don’t-break principles. This concept requires disciplined and intelligent players who understand what they are seeing in front of them. It is no coincidence that former Bears’ personnel man Chris Ballard has replicated his scouting success in Indy.

Multiple players currently rostered in Chicago would make for good fits. Eddie Jackson could be a strong fit as a deep zone ball-hawking safety in the mold of Bob Sanders or Mike Brown. Opposite of him, the Bears would want to target an intelligent safety who has deep coverage skills to mirror Jackson. At CB, Jaylon Johnson is at his best in press man coverage. While he showed issues in zone coverages his rookie year, he has improved significantly in his second season. Johnson will still be asked to press but will drop into short and intermediate zones more often. Outside of Johnson, it’s too early to know on Thomas Graham Jr. and the Bears need to add to the position regardless.

Meanwhile, Roquan Smith could fill the MIKE role where Brian Urlacher set the gold standard. However, he might showcase his abilities better at the WILL spot. That is where Derrick Brooks and Lance Briggs created chaos for opposing offenses. The WILL tends to have more freedom in blitzing and reacting to the run game than the MIKE. This is where the Colts have Darius Leonard, with Bobby Okereke playing the MIKE spot.

On the DL, the Bears may be in store for an overhaul this offseason with Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols due for free agency. Being able to add a three technique who can get after the passer is important for this defensive scheme. It may not be as paramount due to the talent on the EDGE with Quinn and Mack.

“The way he’s taught us about passion, intensity and taking the ball away and being situationally smart, he’s ingrained that in us. We love coach Flus.”

– Colts CB Kenny Moore

Matt Eberflus’ Player Development History

Eberflus has gotten average or better production out of 16 of 27 draft picks, based on the players he coached as a positional coach or defensive coordinator.
Matt Eberflus’ development of draft picks

Eberflus brings a strong history of developing linebackers and defensive players in general into good NFL players. He worked closely with Darius Leonard, Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson, Julian Blackmon, and Khari Willis, to name a few. His ability to develop mid- and late-round talent has been a major key to the Colts’ defensive success. The developmental successes have primarily come at the LB or DB positions.

“I’ve just seen Flus continue to grow and develop in that role as well, really connecting with players, making a conscious effort every week to put our players in the best position possible.” – Colts HC Frank Reich

– Colts HC Frank Reich

The chart shows a breakdown of the players drafted when Eberflus served as LB coach or defensive coordinator. When he was LB coach, I only included LBs drafted in his tenure. For when he was coordinator, I included all defensive players drafted in his tenure. Percentiles are based on AV share for every player drafted from 2001-2020.

Matt Eberflus Summary

Pros:

  • Defensive player development track record, especially at LB.
  • Ability to develop mid- and late-round talent that has propelled the Colts’ defensive success.
  • Extensive coaching network for the offensive side of the football. Indirect ties to the Dungy coaching tree on the defensive side of the ball.
  • Takeaway-driven mentality, with defenses ranking top 10 in turnover percentage each of the past four seasons.
  • Proven ability to reach his players and get them to buy into what he is selling.

“It started out as the coaches talking about it. Now the players buy into it, and the players do it. When new guys come into our team like the guys we acquired this year, they teach them the loaf system and why we do it.”

– Matt Eberflus

Cons:

  • Hiring a defensive mind in an offensive league.
  • Limited direct coaching network on the defensive side of the football.
  • Questionable quality of offensive coaching network, which includes Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Wade Wilson. May need to pull from a less proven pool to find quality (Wes Phillips, Kevin Patullo).
  • Bend-don’t-break defensive scheme (considered a “con” depending who you ask).

Final Words on Matt Eberflus

Matt Eberflus Colts
Photo: NFL.com

“Hustle is something that’s paramount to successful football no matter offense, defense or special teams.’’

– Matt Eberflus

Matt Eberflus is a coach who does football the right way. In Indianapolis, he has shown an ability to get buy-in from his players while holding them accountable for their shortfalls.

His coaching network is strong, so he should be able to find quality defensive assistants. The reason this does not concern me is due to his network including Nick Saban, Rod Marinelli, and Monte Kiffin. These three names should serve as multipliers to his network due to those coaches’ extensive networks and experience.

On offense, he has an extensive coaching network that he can pull from, but some of the names most easily tied to him are not very exciting (Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, Wade Wilson).

While Eberflus runs a defensive scheme Bears fans are familiar with, there is one prying question. Do we want to see that again? The amount of success with the Tampa 2 has waned in recent years, although the league does go through cycles. I personally prefer an attacking 3-4 style of defense that creates more uncertainty. But if it works, it works. And Eberflus has the Colts’ defense humming without much top-tier talent.

At this point, Matt Eberflus is one of my personal favorites for the Bears head coaching vacancy.

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Scott Dunfee
Scott Dunfee
6 days ago

Sure am hoping some great swarming interest comes up so Minnesota Vikings grab up Matt and sign him aboard as new head coach for= the team….we really need a man like Matt to bring us to the big show !

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