As we look over the product the Indianapolis Colts have put on the field before their bye week this season, there are obvious flaws in multiple areas of the roster which are making it difficult to close out games. The game plan doesn’t appear to be as sharp, the offensive line is struggling with some new pieces, and Jacoby Brissett, while progressing nicely, has been falling into bad habits just the same.
One area that appears to be developing as a true strength is the Colts’ secondary. Despite losing Malik Hooker for the season, it is true that his skill set was realized very early in the campaign. The Colts also lost Vontae Davis via release — his play had not been up to par over the past couple seasons.
Additionally, the Colts now have two very interesting draft picks at cornerback, Nate Hairston and Quincy Wilson who possess the talent the secondary has been sorely missing for years. However, with Wilson being a healthy scratch (while also dealing with knee problems through much of the season), and Hooker on the Injured Reserve list, others have stepped up and could be pieces for the future as well.
Rashaan Melvin has been great throughout most of the year. He has been physical, has matched well with all of his assignments, and is a real asset in run support. Melvin has a team-high 12 passes defensed, has earned the first two interceptions of his career this season, and — it could be argued — has just missed at least three more possible picks.
Melvin is fourth on the team in tackles and has given the Colts the coverage they needed, but never received, from Davis. While Davis, in his Pro Bowl days, allowed the Colts to implement the press-man scheme, Melvin now carries that torch.
Also, as I mentioned above, Hairston has had a very productive year. The rookie was presumed to be a special teams contributor once he was drafted, with few expectations of getting significant snaps, let alone becoming the starter in the nickel corner role. Hairston has been an option for Ted Monachino to use in creating unseen pressure off the edge as a free rusher.
Yet, a couple others have taken the next step as the season has worn on. Matthias Farley has been a very solid safety being used primarily – and most effectively – in strong-side duties as an enforcer.
Farley likely won’t be a future starter with Hooker and Clayton Geathers theoretically getting the nod in 2018. However, Farley has grown nicely and surely deserves a backup role with his ability to force turnovers, providing the Colts a sure tackler at the position (currently second on team with 36 solo tackles). He has been laying some serious thunder this year, jarring the ball loose from receivers with timely, powerful hits. His coverage ability has improved, and it’s clear the team likes what it has seen from him.
Don’t look now, but Pierre Desir has quietly become an excellent addition to the secondary by ultimately taking the place of Davis, only better. Desir earned an interception last week and has amassed six passes defensed in just four starts (tied for second on the team). Regardless of results, Desir has largely been in position to make a play on the ball aside from a few plays in his first few weeks with the team, and that cannot be minimized.
Yes, this unit has its flaws. It is giving up the most explosive pass plays (20-plus yards) in the league (47), and it really isn’t close. As a result, the Colts are allowing the second-most passing yards per game in the league, and 37.6 percent of the completions they allow (24th) go for first downs.
But, there are certainly some very positive signs for this secondary.
The Colts are 10th in opponent completion rate allowed, 19th in touchdowns allowed – which isn’t great, but still a large byproduct of those big plays – and are tied for 11th in the league with eight interceptions, which was their season total a year ago. The pass defense has done this while enduring the third-most passing attempts, with only the New York Jets and Philadelphia Eagles being passed against more often.
With Geathers hopefully making his return to the field in Week 12, it shouldn’t be that much of a surprise if this unit becomes even more effective. Becoming a noticeable strength of the defense toward the end of the year would be a huge development as the team moves into a second year of roster restructuring.
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