The Indianapolis Colts just won their sixth game out of their last seven with a 24-21 victory at the Houston Texans. The game was highlighted by a strong defensive effort by the Colts as they sacked quarterback Deshaun Watson five times in the win. There were many defensive standouts— Denico Autry, Kenny Moore, and Pierre Desir to name a few— but the most notable standout had to be Clayton Geathers.
Geathers has not had the best season up to this point in my opinion, as he has struggled with run angles and open field tackling all year. Geathers hasn’t necessarily played poorly, he just hasn’t done enough to show me that he is the future of the strong safety position for this team. Obviously he took my harsh analysis to heart as he came out on Sunday with his strongest performance of the season.
So what did Geathers do on Sunday that was so much better than the rest of his season? Lets jump into the film and find out.
The Colts used Geathers in the box a lot on Sunday, moreso than I’ve seen in any other game this season. They also utilized him a lot with blitz plays, moving him all over the field on these types of plays and disguising their coverages.
Here Geathers is blitzing up the middle and gets blocked by the running back. Geathers doesn’t really do anything flashy as he gets stonewalled by the back but by taking the protecting back away from the play, Kenny Moore is able to get the sack. Geathers does his assignment well here on a well designed blitz by Matt Eberflus and the Colts.
The area where Geathers really impressed me the most on Sunday was in man coverage in the slot. He never had to line up against the Texans’ starter in the slot Keke Coutee so that does help. However, Geathers did perform admirably all day against DeAndre Carter and Joe Webb in slot man coverage.
Here, Moore is sent on yet another blitz and Geathers comes down to play man on Carter. Geathers gets around the pick play pretty well and Malik Hooker does a good job of reading the route. As a result, Geathers gets what should be his first interception of the year. Hooker is called for unnecessary hitting too hard on the play though which negated an all around nice play for the defense.
Here the Colts yet again send Moore on a blitz from the slot at the top of the screen. Geathers yet again comes down to cover his man in man to man coverage, this time the receiver is Joe Webb. Geathers and linebacker Anthony Walker do a nice job of taking away the initial read on the quick hitch and Webb is forced to break off the route inside. Geathers follows closely behind, giving Watson a very tight window to force the throw. Watson forces the pass while off balance and it almost leads to an interception for Geathers.
Aside from playing well in the slot in man coverage, Geathers seemed to perform better in run defense too as his run angles and run fits all seemed to be much improved on Sunday. This rep, however, is his worst rep of the day for Geathers in run defense.
The Texans are running a read option play here. Watson keeps it all the way while Geathers (top left of the screen) is drawn too far inside, leaving Watson the outside angle to pick up extra yards. Geathers does recover nicely and is able to chase down Watson in space but ideally the safety shouldn’t commit so far inside on this type of play.
This is a much better rep from Geathers against the read option here. He comes down into the box on the left side of the screen to start the play. Instead of being sucked inside like on the previous rep, Geathers diagnoses the play and engages the tight end in front of the play. He is able to shed the block of the tight end rather quickly and make the tackle on Watson for no gain. This is the type of play that your starting strong safety needs to make right here.
This next rep features Geathers making a nice open field tackle on third down. Geathers appears to be dropping into a mid-zone on this play as the Colts go into their typical third down defense. Geathers recognizes that Watson is going to dump the ball down and breaks on the play quicker than anyone else on the defense. He targets Lamar Miller’s waist on this tackle and as he makes first contact, he is able to wrap up around the legs and make the play. Geathers made a nice play here and in other games I would expect him to miss this tackle in the same opportunity. Nice of him to capitalize on this third down play.
Now from a slot corner/ linebacker spot, Geathers makes another nice play in run defense. Geathers is lined up over tight end Ryan Griffin here, presumably in man coverage. Geathers does a nice job of keeping his eyes in the backfield however and notices the quick shovel pass to Miller. Geathers is able to step around a poor blocking attempt form Griffin after accelerating off of his back foot and makes the tackle in open space. Again, I really like his target area here as it allows him to still wrap up the runners’ legs when he slides down from the waist area. Very good play here from Geathers in the box.
Although this next play looked much more impressive live than on film, it is still an impressive play nonetheless. The Colts yet again send the slot guy on a blitz— this time its Matthew Adams— and Geathers comes down hill from his safety position to play man. So, the reason Geathers is coming down so fast is partly due to the schemed blitz. However, Geathers does a great job of diagnosing the screen and continues to fly down hill, beating the blocker and blowing up the play. If he even hesitates at all, he gets blocked and the screen goes for a big gain. So, nice play by Geathers to read and react on the fly, and well schemed play again by Matt Eberflus.
Geathers here is playing deep safety— a rarity in this game— and he comes down to make the tackle on Miller. Part of playing safety is being the last line of defense and Geathers does that well on this play. He knows not to over-commit and risk the big play. He calmly sits back and allows the play to come to him as he makes the nice, form tackle.
Probably Geathers’ most impressive tackle of the day, as he prevents the punt from being blocked in a pivotal point of the game. Geathers makes a poor read here as the up man and drifts way too far inside. By doing this, he allows a free rusher to fly through the blocks en route to a game altering punt block. Luckily though, he notices the rusher at the last second and is able to grab him before he can block the punt. Obviously not a highlight but good situational awareness to recognize that a holding is better than a blocked punt.
Last clip of the day, but it’s a bit of a bad rep for Geathers, at least to some degree. The Texans are in the red zone trying to bring this game back to a one score game with less than five minutes left. The Colts drop into their go to cover two zone with Hooker (on the left) and Geathers (on the right) on the back end.
The coverage is initially good but Watson is able to buy time and get out of the pocket. The coverage does break down a bit here now as Hooker drifts too far forward and Geathers gets cement feet looking into the backfield. He needs to drift more with Watson wants he rolls out and locate the nearest receiver. He fails to do that and Watson finds an open Hopkins for the touchdown.
Geathers had perhaps his best game of the season on Sunday and should have come away with two interceptions to go with his impressive nine tackle performance. His biggest improvements that I saw from prior games was his angles in run support and his targets on ball carriers. As a result, he missed less tackles and the stat sheet looked nice and filled at the end of the day.
I do still have my concerns with Geathers though in two deep coverage. I think he does lack the instincts and natural feel back there to really strike fear into opposing quarterbacks. Matt Eberflus did an excellent job of maneuvering him all around the defense, resulting in Geathers playing more slot corner and nickel linebacker. I think those positions are more areas of comfort for him than in that two deep role on passing downs.
Overall, I still think that the Colts need to address the other safety position this offseason if they can but this past Sunday did open my eyes to how Geathers could be used going forward. If he cleans up his run angles and target areas like he did against the Texans, the Colts can use him as a base strong safety and a nickel linebacker type on passing downs. In summary however, this was a big game for Geathers and bodes well for the future with his free agency looming.