The Indianapolis Colts’ defense struggled in the first half of the 2018 season but turned it around, kick-starting a run to the playoffs. A key to the turnaround was the unexpected rise of several role players into every day starters. Of the players to turn it around, perhaps the most underappreciated was cornerback Pierre Desir.
Desir put together a career year for the Colts in 2018, eclipsing his career best marks in almost every statistical category. He finished with 79 total tackles, 8 pass deflections, 2 forced fumbles, and an interception. He also played a pivotal role in shutting down DeAndre Hopkins and Amari Cooper late in the season.
This film room will examine where Desir excels and how he put together a career season. It will also examine areas he needs to improve if he hopes to become a number one corner in 2019, for the Colts or another team.
The Colts run a zone heavy defense but mix in man coverage to confuse offenses. Desir was the team’s go-to corner in these situations. As the player often tasked with covering the opponent’s top target, he was excellent in match-ups against Cooper and Hopkins. His long frame and impressive movement skills make him a nuisance for receivers in man coverage.
Desir held Amari Cooper to 4 catches for 32 yards in their week 15 match-up and a big reason was his athleticism. Electing to use mirror and match coverage, Desir was able to move with Cooper all, even though Cooper is one of the better route runners in football. In this clip, Desir (top of the screen) matches Cooper’s movements off of the line effortlessly and stays even down the line on the in route. Tight coverage like this led to fewer targets for Cooper.
When matched-up against DeAndre Hopkins, Desir knew he had to be physical at the line, rather than mirror and match. In this clip, Desir (top of the screen) gets his hands on Hopkins early and drives him towards the sidelines. Frustrated, Hopkins gives up on the route and allows Desir to take him out of the play. The ability to play physical in man coverage was a major reason Desir held Hopkins to just 9 catches for 73 yards in two games.
In our next clip, Desir (bottom of the screen) is in off man coverage with speedy wide receiver Robby Anderson. He gets good depth on his backpedal and flips his hips effortlessly once he diagnoses that Anderson is running a fade route. He does an excellent job of closing the gap with the receiver and gets his head around to make a play on the ball. The result is an incompletion.
In our last man coverage clip, Desir (bottom of the screen) is lined up in press man coverage. He opens his hips well as the receiver cuts inside and breaks on the ball effortlessly as it is thrown. A poor pass is the main reason for this incompletion but Desir is in prime position to make a play. He gets his hands into the passing lane and nearly causes an interception.
Two of the more important traits that a corner can posses are burst and the ability to recover when beat. Desir has superb burst out of his backpedal which is so important in the Colts’ zone heavy defense. He also doesn’t panic when he is beat and often works himself back into a play by getting into throwing lanes.
In our next clip, Desir (bottom of the screen) is in off man coverage. He opens up his hips early and allows the receiver to have an inside release, acknowledging his safety help over the top. When the receiver runs a skinny post just inside of his zone, Desir breaks on the ball and nearly comes away with an interception. The underthrow helps but Desir’s burst and quickness out of his backpedal nearly turn this play into an interception.
Often billed as a man corner, in this clip Desir (top of the screen) flashes ability in zone. Here he is tasked with the outside flat zone. He gets his eyes on the quarterback early and recognizes the slant. He breaks on the pass with excellent foot speed and quickness and comes away with his only interception of the season. Great read but the play was mostly made because of his top level burst out of his break.
In our next clip, Desir (right of the screen) does an excellent job recovering after he is initially fooled with play-action. He calmly locates his receiver, gets in the passing lane, and finds the ball as it touches the tight end’s hands. The result is a big incompletion on a play that could have been a big gain for the Cowboys.
Too many players lunge and dive at ball carriers rather than wrapping up and making good, clean tackles. Desir spent some time in Seattle and it is reflected in his tackling form and ability. His tackling ability was vital to the Colts’ zone defense in 2018.
Desir consistently wraps up when tackling. In this clip, he (top of the screen) comes out of his break when he sees the tight end catch the pass. He aims his tackle correctly while getting his head on the correct side of the ball carrier and wraps him up. The result is no extra yards and a solid tackle in the stat sheet.
Even on plays when he is not in position, Desir (top of the screen) has the length and physicality to make tough tackles. In this clip, he gets a deep drop in coverage and flies upfield when the ball is caught by the running back in space. He gets around the potential wide receiver block and reaches the running back before he can get to the first down marker.
The only major issue I notice when watching Desir’s game is game-to-game consistency. He often struggles with the mental aspect of the game and needs to be stickier in coverage in some games. He was excellent against Dallas, Washington, and Houston but really struggled in against Miami, New England, and New York (Giants).
This clip shows the biggest lowlight of the season for Desir (bottom of the screen). He does a good job of sticking with his man through the route. He covers his man all the way down field and doesn’t lose him when the ball is thrown. But he needs to make a better play on the ball. He has to win at the point of attack. Losing down the field is a recipe for losing games.
The following clip shows Desir’s mental inconsistency. He (top of the screen) is tasked with man coverage on the outside receiver against the Patriots. The receiver motions inside and catches a quick screen while Desir doesn’t react in time to prevent the touchdown. As the only unblocked defender on this play, it is on Desir to get in there and break up the pass. The inactivity at the snap shows some of the mental inconsistencies in his game.
Pierre Desir was an underappreciated player during the Colts’ playoff run in 2018. He was excellent in man coverage and his ability to tackle in space was underrated. His burst and agility is truly remarkable. To really take the next step and become a number one corner, he must find more consistency in his game.
The Colts’ would have been a completely different team last season if he didn’t step and play as well as he did. Hopefully GM Chris Ballard finds a way to bring the veteran back for at least another year in 2019.