The Indianapolis Colts have given up big plays through the air all season long. There have been breakdowns in communication and individual failures as well. With veteran Vontae Davis missing time early in the season, three rookies getting worked into a new system during practice, and two games without Rashaan Melvin for a concussion, finding a strong rotation and fixing early season problems has been a struggle.
While there certainly has been disappointment for a fan base who wants to see more out of second round rookie Quincy Wilson, who showed some very promising abilities against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 2, there also has been the opportunity for the team to work out numerous young players at the position and see if anyone could stick. Kenny Moore, Chris Milton and Pierre Desir were assumed to be behind Davis, Melvin, Wilson and Hairston at the beginning of the year. Both Milton and Moore have struggled on defense, playing larger roles on special teams, but Desir has started to put things together. He now has started two straight games and is in line to start for the remainder of the season — barring the continued development of Wilson.
After a promising performance in Week 8 against the Cincinnati Bengals, where Desir played a key role in helping limit A.J. Green, he was asked to match-up against DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller of the Texans in Week 9. Let’s take a look at what worked and what didn’t to see if Desir deserved the opportunity to start over Vontae Davis.
Early in the game, Desir matched up in man coverage with DeAndrea Hopkins. He played close to the line and established press coverage early in the route. He stuck with Hopkins all the way down the field and kept him from having any chance at making a play on the ball.
It’s nice to see that he has the speed to keep up with one of the premier receivers in the NFL.
Desir matched up in man coverage with Will Fuller on this play. For those who don’t know a lot about Fuller, he is a deep threat receiver who uses his height and straight line speed to make big plays. Desir was able to maintain tight coverage 40 yards down the field and made it impossible for Fuller to make a play on the ball.
Late in the fourth quarter, desperate to score a touchdown and put themselves in a position to win the game, the Texans targeted Hopkins in the end zone. On this play, Hopkins attempted to stutter and throw Desir off in coverage but Desir was able to stick with him.
Remember, Hopkins made the catch here but didn’t get the touchdown because he couldn’t get both feet down. However, I would argue that if the ball was thrown inside the boundary enough for Hopkins to make the touchdown grab, there is a good chance that Desir would have tipped the ball. It was excellent coverage.
This was one of the toughest touchdown grabs I have seen a player make, in terms of holding on to the football with a cornerback ripping at the ball on the way down. Hopkins only needed a half step and inside leverage in order to make the grab. Again, this was excellent coverage that still resulted in a touchdown.
Nate Hairston was cross the field closest to the line of scrimmage on this play, covering Bruce Ellington. The backside cornerback was Desir covering Hopkins. Tight coverage from both players forced a tight window and a bad decision by Tom Savage. Desir nearly picked this pass off as it passed Hopkins.
We’ve talked a lot about the difference between tight coverage schemes like press man, which Desir played for much of the game, and off-man or soft zone coverage. On this play, the Colts are playing loose Cover 3, with Desir lined up off of Hopkins. A linebacker sticks with the receiver in the deep middle and Melvin sticks with his man, but the two safeties and two corner are in zone. Lining up Desir off of Hopkins resulted in a too easy completion for a first down.
We need to stop using this coverage scheme altogether unless there is a third and very long or late in the game with multiple touchdown leads. A tight cover 3 might even be okay but lining up off of one of the best receivers in the league and allowing a first down is bad football.
While Pierre Desir gave up a touchdown to DeAndre Hopkins last week, his coverage was consistently good on Hopkins and Fuller. These players had to make contested catches in order to get anything going. Also, Tom Savage had to wait longer than he would like to get rid of the ball because his receivers struggled to gain any early separation in their routes.
It wasn’t until Desir went to off-man and loose zone coverage schemes that he “gave up” receptions. The only two legitimate receptions he gave up in man coverage were the contested touchdown grab and a contested catch over the middle against Hopkins that gave Houston a first and goal with seconds remaining. In all, it was a very strong day and the second week in a row that he answered the challenge of covering one of the league’s most dangerous receivers.