Colts' young, depleted secondary is exposed in loss to Saints

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts expected to experience some growing pains when they drafted three cornerbacks and a safety in April.

Their predicament became even bleaker when starting cornerback Dallis Flowers suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon in Week 4 and worse yet when rookie starter JuJu Brents was deactivated Sunday against New Orleans after hurting his quadriceps.

Not surprisingly, things didn't go well. Four-time Pro Bowl quarterback Derek Carr repeatedly picked on fill-in Tony Brown, throwing for 310 yards and two scores in the Saints' 38-27 victory over the Colts.

Coach Shane Steichen said he never considered benching Brown, a fifth-year cornerback who has played primarily on special teams.

“We felt good about Tony going into the game, so that was the decision,” Steichen said.

In his first start of the season and the fifth of his career, Brown gave up a 58-yard TD pass to Rashid Shaheed in the first half and a 51-yard pass to Shaheed that essentially sealed the victory for New Orleans (4-4). He also drew a facemask penalty that helped set up the Saints' final touchdown.

But it wasn't just the fault of Brown, who missed Friday's practice with a rib injury.

The Colts (3-5) have lost three straight overall, five in a row to the Saints and four of their five home games this season.

They opted to keep Pro Bowl cornerback Kenny Moore II in his more natural slot coverage. They also plugged rookie Jaylon Jones into the starting lineup instead of Darrell Baker Jr., who was called for costly, controversial penalties on back-to-back plays late in last week's loss to Cleveland. Colts owner Jim Irsay wrote on his social media account that the league admitted it made mistakes on both calls.

None of it mattered to Carr and the Saints. Carr made big play after big play, completing 19 of 27 passes with a rating of 133.3. The New Orleans receivers reveled in their ability do the dirty work of going across the middle.

“I like when we can work the middle of the field,” said Alvin Kamara, who caught four passes for 51 yards and one TD and rushed for 59 yards and another score. "Every guy that catches the football for us likes to attack the middle of the field. To put it on film feels good.”

For the Colts, finding a fix for their most glaring flaw won't be easy.

They entered Week 8 ranked among the league's top 10 in sacks while leading the league in tackles for loss (48) and strip sacks (five). But the coverage problem becomes most noticeable when pass rushers can't put pressure on quarterbacks.

And until Brents is healthy, the Colts don't have many options beyond those who finished the last two games. Backup Ameer Speed was inactive Sunday and the only other cornerback on the active roster is little-used veteran Chris Lammons, who started this season by serving a three-game suspension because of his role in a Las Vegas fight in 2022.

What else could the Colts do to solidify a defense that allowed Carr to top the 300-yard mark for the third straight game and has given up 37, 39 and 38 points over the past three weeks?

“We've got to apply more pressure," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “Even if it’s max protection — we've got guys that stay in one-on-one opportunities. We have to win in those one-on-one opportunities, especially when we are down in the secondary. We can’t leave those guys out to dry, and they turned it into a play-action-max kind of game. That’s kind of been the formula the past couple of weeks.”