INDIANAPOLIS – Despite having a bye week in between, the Indianapolis Colts will enter their second straight game Sunday with questions in the defensive secondary.
Cornerback Kenny Moore II has been ruled out with a knee injury, taking away a creative blitzer who caused Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson problems in the playoff victory in January as well as the team’s best slot defender.
Safety Malik Hooker also is listed as doubtful despite returning to full practice Friday. He’s still ahead of schedule after suffering torn meniscus Sept. 22 in a win against the Atlanta Falcons.
A third key defensive back, cornerback Pierre Desir, is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury. Desir did not practice during the week but played two weeks ago at Kansas City despite just one day on the practice field.
The Colts (3-2) found themselves in a similar situation before the 19-13 victory against the Chiefs on Oct. 6. With starting safeties Hooker and Clayton Geathers sidelined, rookie Khari Willis and second-year former undrafted free agent George Odum stepped in and made big plays.
Geathers is back after recovering from a concussion, and Indianapolis is confident it can play well with the healthy bodies on hand.
“The thing with this week is Kenny, Malik and Pierre have not been going the whole week so nothing (is) catching us by surprise this week,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “Guys got a lot of reps and will be ready to step up if needed.”
Reich said Desir will be a game-time decision, and his availability could set the rest of the lineup.
He’s been a key factor in the past two wins against the Texans, helping to limit star wide receiver Deandre Hopkins to nine combined catches for 73 yards and one touchdown.
When Houston beat the Colts last September, before Desir was assigned to man coverage, Hopkins went off for 10 catches, 169 yards and one score.
If Desir is healthy, he’ll likely start on the outside opposite rookie Rock Ya-Sin and again see heavy reps against Hopkins.
If Desir can’t go, Quincy Wilson likely will get the start opposite Ya-Sin, and Shakial Taylor — an undrafted rookie out of Kansas re-signed just two weeks ago — likely will be the nickel back.
Wilson likely will be in the slot if Desir is healthy. He also saw some practice time again at safety this week, which has been consistent with his versatile role since training camp.
“That’s part of my preparation,” Wilson said. “I move around a lot. So, yeah, I just need to be ready to go wherever they feel like they want to put me.”
Even with all the injuries against Kansas City, the Colts put together one of their best defensive games – limiting reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes to one touchdown pass and 13 points.
The pass rush also played a big role in the victory, recording four sacks.
Indianapolis is confident it has the personnel to survive and thrive again.
“We’ve practiced all week, and we feel comfortable with those (substitutes),” Wilson said. “We went and competed all week in practice. So, of course, we feel comfortable with having them out there.”
Rookie wide receiver Parris Campbell (abdominal) and defensive lineman Tyquan Lewis (ankle) were ruled out Friday alongside Moore.
Left guard Quenton Nelson (hip) was a surprise absence from practice and is listed as questionable along with Desir and veteran defensive end Justin Houston (calf).
Players listed as questionable often play on Sunday, and Reich believes that will be the case with Houston, at least.
“Just a little lower leg thing, just being cautious,” he said. “You know with a guy like him who’s been around, (we) feel confident that he’ll be fine.”
Defensive lineman Denico Autry, left tackle Anthony Castonzo, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, defensive end Jabaal Sheard and Geathers received a veteran’s day off Friday.
Tight end Eric Ebron (illness) and linebacker Zaire Franklin (hamstring) were full participants.
Offensive linemen Tytus Howard (knee) and Greg Mancz (concussion) were ruled out for Houston.
Safety Tashaun Gipson (hip/wrist) and cornerbacks Jonathan Joseph (hamstring) and Bradley Roby (hamstring) each were limited participants in Friday’s practice and were listed as questionable.