The Problem With the 2012 Colts: the Defensive Backfield

Vontae Davis was disappointing in his debut. (Chicago Tribune)As I watched the Colts loss against the Bears through on Monday night, I noticed a lot of flaws in the this team. 

Of course, that much should be clear to any NFL fan this season: the Colts will be bad. There simply isn’t that much proven talent on the team. 

Despite all of our hopes for the season before it began, the reality is that the team doesn’t have enough talent for this scheme, this schedule, or this year. Wins will come, but they will likely be few this season. 

But, one thing stood out the most against the Bears, one thing that, if fixed, could really help this team. 

The defensive backfield. 

After the trade for Vontae Davis, some Colts fans wanted to say that a starting defensive backfield consisting of Antoine Bethea, Jerraud Powers, and Vontae Davis was actually pretty good. Some even said that with the trade, the Colts turned a weakness on the team into a strength. 

That was delusional. 

The Colts may have potential for some special things on the defense, but the defensive backs are nowhere near a strength at this point. Every single one of the defensive backs was inconsistent against the Bears, leading to big plays down the field, and a whole lot of points. 

Actually, the front seven wasn’t as bad as I feared, they did a decent job in the run game, and forced the Bears to keep tight ends and running backs back to block far more often than I expected. But, the defensive backs didn’t take advantage of that, and it was a disaster, as Cutler had somewhere to throw as soon as he wanted to have one. 

I do think there is a lot of room for improvement in the unit, but if that improvement isn’t found, it will be a very long season. 

Here are my notes on the defensive backs, one by one: 

  • Antoine Bethea is a very good safety. Without him, this unit would be a mess. But, even he had problems at times on Sunday, mainly when asked to matchup one-on-one with a slot receiver. When that receiver was Brandon Marshall, it turned out poorly. However, Bethea is still a good fit for the defense, and played reasonably well. 
  • I wonder how anybody can not be intrigued by the proposition of Jerraud Powers in a new system this season. For me, it will be one of the most interesting developments to watch. Powers showed several things going forward. 
    • First, Powers has the tools to be a very good man-to-man corner, but he’s not quite there yet. Powers had very little problems staying with a guy on his route. He has the instincts and the physical tools to cover the receiver tightly, resulting in him running stride by stride with a receiver while the ball is in the air. However, Powers isn’t quite where the Colts need him to be yet, simply because he’s not used to the man-to-man coverage. His ball skills and adjusting mid-route are not up to par. Powers is used to a zone, read-and-react system, and hasn’t yet gotten the instincts of reacting to the ball in the air and adjusting with the receiver. This was apparent on one particular occasion, when Powers had great coverage on Marshall down the field, but couldn’t adjust to the ball, and ended up flailing awkwardly in the air. 
    • Second, Powers doesn’t have the size and strength to deal with big, physical receivers. Vontae Davis needs to adjust quickly, because that will be his role. The only time that Marshall was really getting the better of Powers throughout the game was when he got physical, using his hands, pushing off, etc. Powers will do all he can, but in a lot of instances, he won’t be able to simply because of physical limitations.
  • Vontae Davis was disappointing. Davis seemed to lose his footing multiple times through the game, leaving receivers wide open. He didn’t cover particularly well, nor tackle well, but he did show above average ball skills. The touchdown by Alshon Jeffery was especially ugly, as the rookie got a full two steps behind him. Davis has, of course, only been a Colt for a week, and the hope is that he will grow into the system over the next few weeks, and really flash that ability to follow the number one receiver for the game. For the Bears, I would have liked to see he would have had success against Marshall in a longer period. 
  • Justin King had some very good coverages, but he also made some silly mistakes, such as pass interference penalties. For the game, he seemed to cover a little tighter than Davis did, but he still, like Powers, needs to work on his ball skills. 
  • Cassius Vaughn. Why was he out there on Marshall on goal line situations? Isn’t that what Davis is supposed to be for? 
  • I’m still very skeptical of Tom Zbikowski. He wasn’t completely terrible on Sunday, but he didn’t provide any reason for comfort either. 

Some causes for concern, but nothing that is set in stone for the whole year. 

I’ll have more up later today and tomorrow about the front seven, and why they really weren’t that bad. 

Kyle J. Rodriguez

About Kyle J. Rodriguez

A film and numbers guru, Kyle writes about the NFL and the Indianapolis Colts for Bleacher Report, Draft Mecca and The Football Educator, and is a co-founder and associate editor of Colts Authority. Kyle also is a high school sports reporter for the MLive Media Group in Michigan, covering high school sports across the state.