Colts put pressure on CB Vontae Davis as Colts prepare for Texans’ receivers
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – During the formative days of training camp, Chuck Pagano pinpointed the linchpin of his defense.
He singled out Vontae Davis, the Indianapolis Colts’ two-time Pro Bowl cornerback.
Do you think Vontae can return to the level he played at in 2014 when he was one of the NFL’s top shut-down corners?
Pagano was direct.
“He has to,’’ he said. “He knows, in order for us to be the type of defense that we want to be, that he has to. There’s no gray area there.
“He either does it, or we’re not going to be the same type of defense.’’
Gradually, Davis is returning to the form the defense so desperately needs. He isn’t fully recovered from a medial sprain to his right ankle in mid-August, but is the only legitimate playmaker on a lackluster group that ranks No. 30 overall and is coming off a game against Chicago that saw it yield 522 total yards.
There’s no time like the present for Davis to assert himself and hold down his side of the field. Sunday, the Colts visit Houston’s NRG Stadium and must deal with a Texans offense that features wideouts DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and Jaelen Strong.
“Yeah, they’ve got a good receiver group,’’ Davis said Thursday. “Fifteen, Fuller, he can fly. He can run. We know about Hopkins. I’d say he was one of the best receivers in the league last year. He had a breakout year.
“We’ve got to respect those guys.’’
Each is a first-round draft pick: Hopkins was the 27th overall pick in 2013 and Fuller, a Notre Dame product, the 21st pick in April. Strong, the vibrant third wheel, was a third-round pick in ’15.
Hopkins’ breakout season included 111 receptions, 1,521 yards, a club-record 11 touchdowns and a first Pro Bowl appearance. He’s off to a relatively quiet start with a team-high 22 catches, 283 yards and three touchdowns.
Fuller has frustrated the Texans with four drops in five games, but also has a team-best 327 yards and two TDs on 20 catches.
As the Colts prepare for what’s to come, speculation has focused on how they plan to deal with a Houston passing attack that has yet to establish itself behind the leadership of $72 million QB Brock Osweiler. The Texans are 29th in passing (208.6) and Osweiler ranks 29th in passer rating (70.6) and yards per attempt (6.0).
The primary issue is how coordinator Ted Monachino will utilize Davis. Taking the Bill Belichick approach – take away the opponent’s main weapon and force it to rely on second and third options – the Colts should have Davis shadow Hopkins on every snap.
“That’ll be a great matchup,’’ Monachino said. “Those two guys will fight for 60 minutes. The more often we can get those two guys matched the better just simply because we’re going to have to do that.
“But it’s not going to be the kind of thing where Vontae trots out there and he’s following No. 10 around all day.’’
Instead, Monachino will mix his coverages.
The task of dealing with Hopkins, Fuller and the rest is complicated by available personnel. Neither Patrick Robinson nor Darius Butler have practiced this week and are unlikely to play. Butler suffered a fractured finger last Sunday against the Chicago Bears. Robinson not only is dealing with knee and hip injuries, but a fractured psyche as well.
Robinson was the Colts’ only significant free-agent acquisition – a three-year, $14 million contract with $6 million guaranteed – and has yet to fulfill expectations. Sunday was the low point, and it began early in the second quarter. With the Bears facing a first-and-10, he jumped a route by Cameron Meredith and not only failed to deflect the pass but was unable wrap up Meredith. The result: a 30-yard gain.
“I think Pat went into the game in a great place, a great mindset, then gave up a couple of plays and it snowballed on him,’’ Monachino said. “He had a tough day.
“The missed tackle early, that put him in the tank. He’s a confident player and he’s got to have the confidence to go down and challenge guys, and he lost that.’’
With Robinson and Butler likely out, Monachino must rely on Davis and a suspect supporting cast: Rashaan Melvin and Darryl Morris, who were added a few days before the season opener, and rookie Frankie Williams, who was added to the active roster from the practice squad Thursday.
The key is Davis, who admitted he’s yet to regain his “A” game.
“I’m not where I want to be,’’ he said. “But that’s me. I’m hard on myself. I’m just working on me. I don’t focus on anybody else, measuring (up) or whatever.
“I’m just trying to be the best player I can be and what I need to do to get to where I need to be.’’
Anything less won’t suffice. A cornerback who isn’t on top of his game is vulnerable to a bad game, especially when facing a DeAndre Hopkins or Will Fuller.
“That’s every day,’’ Davis said. “This is the NFL. That just comes with the territory. If you (aren’t) in the game, people are going to get you. It doesn’t matter who it is, they come out to beat you.
“That’s the nature of this league.’’
Along with signing Williams to the active roster, the team signed outside linebacker Chris Carter. It also waived offensive tackle Jeremy Vujnovich and linebacker Trevor Bates.
Carter has appeared in 53 career games with four starts with the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, Pittsburgh Steelers and Colts. He appeared in one game with the Colts in ’14.