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Chuck Pagano explains thinking behind Clayton Geathers working at linebacker against Packers

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Colts defense played well enough to win on Sunday, as even though they gave up a lot of yards and wound up allowing quite a few points, for much of the day they bended but didn’t break.

With a lot of attention paid to the defense, it is important to mention one of the more intriguing parts of the defense that we saw on Sunday: Clayton Geathers playing linebacker.

Edwin Jackson saw very few snaps on Sunday, while neither Josh McNary nor Antonio Morrison played at all on defense - meaning that for most of the game, it was Clayton Geathers playing alongside D’Qwell Jackson. We’ve seen Geathers play in the box as a linebacker at times this year, but never to the extent we saw it on Sunday - and it sounds like one of the big reasons why the Colts did it on Sunday was because of the matchup with the Packers.

“Just from a personnel standpoint,” Chuck Pagano explained on Monday, “they were a different team than they were when they started the season when they had Eddie Lacy, when they had [James] Starks available and they had a bunch of running backs available. Without them, they had gone to three, four and five wide receiver sets playing 88 [Ty Montgomery] in the backfield, which we saw yesterday, playing 18 [Randall Cobb] in the backfield at times, he was a little bit beat up, he wasn’t 100 percent. We just felt like to get as much speed as we could on the field. Again, it’s a great job by Ted [Monachino] and that entire defensive staff of coming up with that grouping and then they go at such a tempo to where you have to have a group on the field that can handle the three, four, five receiver sets and they’re not going to let you sub. We didn’t get caught, but it was close to them trying to rush the ball when you’re trying to get fresh rushers in and things like that which you have to do. Just from a matchup standpoint, again, great job by Ted and the defensive staff of putting that plan together and playing D-Butz [Darius Butler] in the back end and 26 [Clayton Geathers] down low and 32 [T.J. Green] at safety with D-Butz. Clayton did a great job. As the game went on, he got better and better and better and he gained confidence [throughout] the course of that game and made some great plays not only in coverage but in the run game.”

Pagano makes a valid point: the way that the Packers offense is currently structured is very much around the pass, so the Colts determined that they would try to get their best coverage people on the field. That meant moving Darius Butler to safety and Clayton Geathers to linebacker, where he could match up in coverage better than guys like D’Qwell Jackson, Edwin Jackson, Josh McNary, or Antonio Morrison can. While Geathers still is far from perfect in that area, he’s better than the alternatives, so that’s what the Colts went with. And they had the luxury of moving Butler to safety because the play of their corners - Vontae Davis, Patrick Robinson, and Rashaan Melvin - has been very good recently. So the move actually helped the Colts at safety and at linebacker, and it didn’t hurt the cornerbacks either. We don’t often get to say it (so we’ve got to make the most of it when we can): this was smart game-planning by the Colts coaches.

Moving forward, defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said today that the Colts hope to keep growing Geathers’s role moving forward. And while it likely won’t be as drastic of a change as it was on Sunday because of the matchup with Green Bay, it’s something that’s very intriguing for this defense that’s in desperate need of whatever help it can get.