When the Colts placed Marlin Jackson on injured reserve last week, they
essentially committed the rest of the season at right cornerback to rookie
Jerraud Powers. Kelvin Hayden has been out of the lineup since Week 4
with a knee injury, paving the way for rookie undrafted free agent Jacob Lacey
to step into the lineup, as well.
Hayden is expected to return to the lineup in
early December, but he is nursing a knee injury that is similar to the one
suffered by Anthony Gonzalez. Gonzalez was supposed to have only missed
six weeks after injuring his knee in the season opener against Jacksonville, but
keeps suffering setbacks and has not played a down since.
That means that Colts fans need to brace themselves for the very real
possibility that Powers and Lacey will be the starting cornerback tandem for the
remainder of the season, particularly if Indianapolis has their playoff seeding
established by the time Hayden is able to return and they'd rather not risk
aggravating the injury in "meaningless" games for the last few weeks of the
Now, it's true that Powers and Lacey are rookies. It's true that 32 NFL
teams went through seven rounds of this season's draft — including compensatory
selections — and that they all decided that Lacey was not worth selecting in
the 2009 draft. But, it's also true that the Colts have other options,
veteran options, at cornerback, and they have decided to stick with Powers and
Tim Jennings, T.J. Rushing, and Anthony Madison have not been
inserted into either of the top two starting positions and have only started
games in which the Colts opened in a nickel formation with three cornerbacks.
Rushing and Madison are primarily special teams players, but Madison has a good
deal of in-game experience at the cornerback position and Jennings had, if
nothing else, more starting experience than either Lacey or Powers when the
decision was made on who to plug in for Jackson and Hayden when they went down.
In Week 2 against Miami, Lacey actually saw more playing time than Powers
and, in the first few weeks of the season, it appeared as though Lacey should
have been selected in the third round and Powers should have been the street
free agent. Since Hayden left the lineup after Week 4, though, Powers has
made serious strides and now has a pretty sizeable advantage over Lacey, such
that he will most likely stay in the lineup and Lacey will be relegated to a
reserve or sub-package role when Hayden is ready to return.
Powers is certainly the better athlete and is far more skilled in man
coverage technique than Lacey, but Lacey is more naturally suited to play the
cornerback position in the Cover 2 scheme that the Colts deploy. All he
needed to do was learn his assignments and stay in the right place and the rest
would take care of itself.
As an undrafted player, he couldn't afford to
be made an example of in practice, training camp, or the preseason, so he made
sure he was always in position and didn't leave the door open to make minor
mistakes as he went and learn from those mistakes. Powers was able to make
mistakes and learn from them over the course of the offseason and so far in
the regular season.
He no doubt learned a great deal from his poor showing
against Randy Moss last week. In fact, he learned to make adjustments in
game in Week 10, as he was burned on a slant route early in the first quarter,
but was able to defend the same route on the opposite side of the field in the
end zone in the third quarter. Moss still caught two touchdown
passes, but the list of gentlemen that Moss has had a good game against is long
If nothing else, Powers is as capable, if not more so, as
Marlin Jackson. Aside from Houston's Andre Johnson, Indianapolis does not face a receiver of Moss'
caliber for the rest of the regular season, there is no risk of overexposure of
Powers or Lacey until the playoffs start.
Other teams tried to exploit Powers and Lacey before the Patriots did so
successfully in Week 10. Other teams tried to throw deep on the Colts in
the first nine weeks of the season. Other teams were not as successful
because they have neither Tom Brady nor Randy Moss.
If you take out the
375 yards passing that Indianapolis allowed against the Patriots and divide that
number by eight, you get 193.8 yards per game. That number is
significantly lower than the 214 yards per game they are currently allowing with
the Week 10 number factored in and it would also rank seventh in the NFL, as
opposed to the current rank of 16th.
The statistics will even out before the close of the season and the Colts
will end up with a top-10 pass defense in terms of yards allowed. Powers
and Lacey will improve their technique, including implementing some guidance
from Alan Williams that will tell them to jam, chuck, or at least get in the way
of a receiver to keep their man from getting a completely free release at the
Powers and Lacey are rookies and they are still learning, but having two
rookies that are learning on the job and still finishing in the top third of the
league in pass defense is still a pretty good place to be.
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