The bright spot during the Colts loss to the Steelers was the defense. Quite frankly, the defense was what kept the Colts in the game, and played with tremendous heart. Three players who played well all game look to be cornerstones for the Colts for years to come, and deserve some special recognition.
And no, I'm not talking about Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis (although they deserve it, they were unstoppable all night). No, the players that impressed me were a trio of young players: Jerraud Powers, Pat Angerer, and Drake Nevis.
Jerraud Powers: First, a disclaimer: I won't be able to fully assess Powers' performance until I get the game tape. It's difficult to watch coverage on a live TV broadcast. That being said, my first impression of this game is that the Jerraud Powers I expected in 2011 finally showed up. Powers was a beast in run support, and had a great pass defense on third down early in the fourth quarter.
Overall, I didn't notice him nearly as much this game as I did in the other games. And for a cornerback, that's a good thing. The long third down conversions were more the fault of the linebackers from what I could see. After a disappointing first two games, my first instinct is that Powers played very well against the Steelers. Again, we'll see more definitively after another viewing, but Powers getting it together certainly would be a good sign for this defense.
Pat Angerer: What can I say about Pat Angerer? The second year linebacker out of Iowa put on a show last night, racking up 21 tackles by the end of the game (12 solo, 9 assists, although some box scores only have him with 11 solo). 21 tackles was three times what anybody on the Steelers' defense totaled (James Harrison had seven). Angerer seems to play much better when put at middle linebacker than at WILL. It could be because he's a more natural fit at the position (he is) so he doesn't have to think as much. It could be because he's playing better than Gary Brackett at MLB right now (he is) so he looks good by comparison.
Either way, Angerer deserves the starting MLB spot. I'll understand if the Colts don't do so, just because Brackett is the defensive captain, and is much better in coverage (Angerer does need to improve there). But, I'd rather see Brackett rotating to WILL, or just taking snaps in pass situations. Nevertheless, the Colts have a good situation at linebacker, with Conner, Wheeler, Brackett, and Angerer all playing well enough to start. But Angerer takes the cake with his play last night.
Drake Nevis: This rookie defensive tackle is looking like another bulls-eye to add to the Polian's draft resume. Nevis received a lot of playing time tonight, due to the absence of starting tackle Fili Moala. He didn't waste his time, being a force in the Steelers' backfield.
Nevis ended the game with only three tackles, but was disruptive all night, consistently getting into the backfield to change the path of the running back. On one particular play, Nevis beat a double team by the guard and standout center Maurkice Pouncey, bringing down the running back at the line of scrimmage.
Overall, it was a good night for the young guys on defense. Not only did these three play well, but other players such as Kavell Conner, Philip Wheeler, Terrence Johnson, and Antonio Johnson stood out as well. Yes, there are mistakes (pass coverage on third down), but there is a very good base for building a defense to support Peyton Manning in his last few years.
If the defense adds a good strong safety in the 2012 offseason, and the linebackers improve in pass coverage, this defense can be a perfect complement to a Manning-led offense in 2012.