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Film Room: Young defenders lead the Colts to victory in Arrowhead

The Colts’ young and depleted defense shut down the Chiefs’ offense in Arrowhead

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Indianapolis Colts shocked the football world on Sunday night as they defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 19-13 in Arrowhead. The Chiefs are one of the best teams in football led by the best quarterback in the league in Pat Mahomes. With the Colts’ starting safeties and All-Pro linebacker out due to injury, it appeared going into the game that it was going to be a long night for the Colts’ struggling defense. Instead, the young defense showed up and shut down the reigning NFL MVP.

Who stepped up for this Colts’ defense to warrant a film room on them this week? Well, there were too many great performances to highlight just one player. While a few veteran players such as Denico Autry, Justin Houston, and Kenny Moore II had great games as well, we will be looking at the younger defenders on the team for this film room. These five youngsters stepped up under the bright lights of prime time and really helped this team pull off the big upset on Sunday Night.

George Odum, Safety

Indianapolis Colts vs Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

One of the best overall defenders on Sunday night had to be fill in free safety George Odum. A former linebacker/safety hybrid in college, Odum signed with the Colts as an UDFA after the 2018 NFL Draft. He played sparingly late last season but looked solid yet inconsistent in his snaps. This year with the addition of Khari Willis, he has had very limited playing time until last night. Filling in for the injured Clayton Geathers, Odum was very good all game as he looked much faster and stronger than Geathers. Hopefully this strong performance leads to more opportunities going forward.

Although he was playing mostly free safety, he flashed some great ability in his run fits on Sunday night. He runs the alley so well and his speed allows him to close ground in a hurry. Here he quickly diagnoses the run and flies downhill. As he approaches the line, the running back squeezes out of a hole to his lane. The runner attempts to side step him but he is too strong as he squares up the hit and is able to drag the runner down for a limited gain. Great job running the alley and wrapping up the running back for a minimal gain.

One of the biggest plays of the game was the forced fumble by Odum on running back LeSean McCoy. The Chiefs draw up a beautiful screen pass as there is almost nobody on the side of the field. This leads to a huge play for the Chiefs that could’ve drastically changed the entire outlook of the game.

Luckily, Odum made a big play on the back end. He initially over ran the play but did do a good job of forcing it back inside. As McCoy cuts up field to the inside, Odum does an excellent job of locating the ball and punching it out for the big play. Colts were able to recover the ball and keep the Chiefs from scoring any more points the rest of the half.

Final clip is yet another huge play by Odum. Late in the game with the Colts only up six point, the Chiefs were facing a 3rd and 28. Somehow, they complete the pass over the middle to Byron Pringle who creates space and appears to have a free lane to the first down. Odum is able to prevent the first by using his speed and power to quickly close ground and crush Pringle, stopping him one yard short of the first. This key tackle eventually led to a fourth down stop for the team that allowed the Colts to ice the game. Huge play and a great tackle by standout safety George Odum.

Bobby Okereke, Linebacker

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Another major standout in the Colts’ big win was rookie linebacker Bobby Okereke. The young linebacker was the Colts’ third round pick in this past draft class. After starting the year as a reserve, he has started the last three games with the injury to Darius Leonard. While he has flashed some really good moments, he has struggled with consistency up to this point. His game against the Chiefs however was his best of the year as he looked great in coverage and confident in his run fits on defense.

This first clip in pass coverage was an excellent play by the young linebacker. He is tasked with a very difficult assignment as he has to come across the hashes to cover a running back on a streak in the red zone. He does an excellent job of covering space quickly as he gets right up in the running back’s hip pocket. He carries the route to the end zone and makes the throw a difficult one for Mahomes.

While he doesn’t get his head back to the ball, Okereke does an excellent job of not contacting the running back while also taking away any chance the running back had on the play by taking away his line of sight. This is a great example of smothering coverage by Okereke and he forces this incompletion.

In run defense, Okereke looked much better on Sunday night than he has in previous games. He looked confident in his run fits while also being patient and not over-pursuing plays. Here is a great play by Okereke on the sweep play away from his side. He tracks the play across the field while not giving up his backside contain. He strafes down the line and locates the runner in the backfield. He breaks down his hips in the hole and is right there when the runner cuts back into his waiting arms. Excellent play to locate the running back and make the tackle.

Khari Willis, Safety

NFL: OCT 06 Colts at Chiefs Photo by Jeffrey Brown/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The best rookie on this Colts’ team in 2019 has easily been Khari Willis. On Sunday night, he continued his strong play on the season. Willis was the Colts’ fourth round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and they traded two late fourth rounders to move up and select him. After playing sparingly early in the year, he has really come on the last few games with Malik Hooker out due to injury and has shown that he can be the future at the strong safety position.

With Odum occupying the free safety position, Willis was free to work as the strong safety for most of the game. The biggest impact he made in this position was in his run fits as he came downhill quickly and aggressively. Here is a perfect example of that. He quickly diagnoses the run play and flies to the line of scrimmage. As the line begins to part and open a hole for the running back, Willis is already waiting to make the tackle. He doesn’t shy away from contact as he efficiently brings down the runner for a small gain. Overall, this is just an excellent job by Willis to run the alley and fill the run gap.

With Odum as his running mate rather than Clayton Geathers, Willis was able to play more in the box due to the ground Odum can cover on the back end. With that freedom, we were able to see Willis make a couple plays around the line of scrimmage in a more natural role. Here is a beautiful play by Willis filling the run lane and making the stop. He quickly diagnoses the play and doesn’t get fooled by the tight end cracking back across the line. He stays sturdy in his run lane and steps up to initiate contact with the runner. He delivers a big pop in the backfield and gets the big tackle for the loss. Willis is an excellent run defender due to his quickness, instincts, and willingness to hit. The Colts have found a gem in this young safety.

Kemoko Turay, Defensive End

Chiefs lose to the Colts 19-13 Rich Sugg/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Despite playing limited snaps this season for the Colts, Turay was enjoying a breakout campaign before breaking his ankle late in the game against the Chiefs. The Colts selected Turay in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. He played well as a rookie but wasn’t able to find consistency at any point in the year. To start this season, he looked like he was developing into a really nice sub pass rusher. Although he suffered a major injury, he played a great game on Sunday against the Chiefs.

This first clip is actually a run defense clip which is not an area that Turay typically does well in. The Chiefs attempt to seal the edge by delivering a crack back block on Turay. He does a great job of diagnosing the play and quickly side stepping the block. After avoiding the block, he is able to locate the ball carrier and bring him down for a loss on the play. Great awareness from Turay results in a great play to get the tackle for a loss.

This last clip was cut a bit short as the leg injury happened on this play and it is a bit gruesome to show again on video. This play is great however to show Turay’s development as a pass rusher. Last year he struggled with consistency and never really threatened offensive tackles with anything other than bending around the edge. This play however shows off his development as he puts a nasty spin on the left tackle en route to the half sack on the play. Hopefully he has a great recovery and comes back stronger next season.

Rock Ya-Sin, Cornerback

The best corner on this Colts’ team in 2019 has been rookie Rock Ya-Sin. While he hasn’t been perfect this season, he has showed a ton of promise and potential to be a really solid player for years to come. He looked very comfortable all night against the Chiefs as he shut down players on his side of the field for most of the night. He did have two ticky tack penalties called against him, but overall it was a very solid night for the young corner.

A big reason why the Colts’ drafted Ya-Sin early in the 2019 NFL Draft was due to his tackling and physicality. His tackling definitely looked good on Sunday night. He looked quick and strong closing in on ball carries and did a great job limiting yards after catch. Here he keeps his head on a swivel and sees the receiver catch the ball in the flat. He breaks on the ball carrier and is able to make a great shoelace tackle as the runner attempts to cut back inside. Great tackle and he got the job done all night limiting yards after catch.

The final play of the game shows how solid Ya-Sin was all game in coverage. He did have two penalties on the night— one for holding and one for illegal contact— that were a bit questionable but overall he got the job done. The Colts ran mostly man in this game and Ya-Sin looked comfortable in his element of physicality.

Here he’s lined up weak side against Travis Kelce. Ya-Sin understands that he has to disrupt the route to get the job done against a big, fast target like Kelce. Ya-Sin does a great job of making contact at the line which disrupts the timing of the play. As Kelce breaks in, Ya-Sin stays on his hip and forces Mahomes to hold the ball. This results in a big sack on the play. This type of coverage was all over the film last night for Ya-Sin as he continues to get better each and every week.

Final Thoughts

Overall this was a huge game for the Colts on a national stage and they absolutely delivered. The veterans such as Kenny Moore II, Denico Autry, and Justin Houston all stood out but that was expected of them. The real takeaway from this game is the strong play of these first and second year players that propelled this team to victory. With the team’s two best defenders out for this game, these young players who filled in really contributed to the team victory.

Sometimes injuries are a bit of a blessing in disguise. You never want to see players of Malik Hooker and Darius Leonard’s caliber go down due to injury but as a result, these young and talented players have received much needed game experience. Now as those two stars return after the bye, the team should only be stronger as their depth is now battle tested. This was a great team win though, and great play by these five young players.