Kenny Moore II too valuable at nickel to alleviate Colts’ issues at outside cornerback

INDIANAPOLIS – The list of proven candidates at cornerback once again is thin.

Dallis Flowers suffered a season-ending torn Achilles in week 4 against the Los Angeles Rams. Rookie JuJu Brents sustained a quadriceps injury in last Sunday’s loss to Cleveland that will keep him out of Sunday’s meeting with New Orleans and probably longer.

Each started four games at one of the NFL’s most unforgiving positions.

So, what are the Indianapolis Colts to do with their outside corners?

Here’s one thing they won’t do: Move Kenny Moore II outside – at least until Brents returns – and find someone else to take over his extensive nickel responsibilities.

Coordinator Gus Bradley conceded “we looked at that.’’

Looked at it, then quickly moved on to Plan B.

“I would anticipate him probably playing more inside just because he’s so valuable for us there,’’ Bradley said.

When the Colts are in base Sunday, Moore and rookie Jaylon Jones will be the outside corners. As soon as Bradley switches to one of his “sub’’ packages that employs a third corner, and that will be early, Moore slides inside to his comfy nickel spot and someone else – Darrell Baker Jr., recent waiver-wire addition Ameer Speed or practice squad corner Darren Hall – moves outside opposite Jones.

“We have to be flexible,’’ Bradley admitted.

Inserting a new face into the secondary would require him to “simplify some things.

“Maybe you can’t do some of the things you’d like to do,’’ he said.

Few nickel corners in the NFL operate at Moore’s level, so it makes no sense to mess with that.

In 94 games and 81 starts, he earned 2021 Pro Bowl recognition and has generated a busy stat line: 461 tackles, including 373 solos and 30 for a loss; 9.5 sacks, 13 quarterback hits, 15 interceptions and 52 passes defended.

At nickel, Moore obviously is used in coverage, but also is a weapon as a blitzer and in run support. His seven tackles for loss in seven games lead the Colts, are tied for 5th-most in the league and are the most for a DB.

“He’s really aggressive,’’ Shane Steichen said. “He’s got a great feel; keying, diagnosing, the scheme of the offense and seeing what’s coming.

“The way he gets off blocks to go make those plays in really impressive.’’

Moore produced at least two shock plays against the Browns; a third was denied when the replay booth wiped out a diving interception.

In the third quarter, he was part of a Bradley blitz package. Moore crept up close to the line from the right side and pulled P.J. Walker down for a sack.

In the fourth quarter, Jerome Ford took a pitch to the left from Walker and looked for room to turn the corner. He never got the chance. Moore sliced in, avoided Elijah Moore’s block attempt and tackled Ford for a seven-yard loss.

“He’s done multiple things like that,’’ Bradley said. “ . . . to have a nickel that will tackle and is a willing tackler and knows his fits . . . we have a great appreciation.

“He’s a playmaker for us.’’

Moore embraces the various challenges of playing nickel.

“Nickel is a harder position than corner,’’ he said. “I would rather be where the pressure is.’’

One undeniable fact regarding Moore: He’s always there.

Since emerging as a defensive cornerstone in 2018 – one year after the Colts claimed him off waivers from New England and the same year Matt Eberflus was named coordinator – Moore seldom comes off the field.

In the last five-plus seasons, he’s been on the field for 100% of the defensive snaps in 42 of 76 starts. He handled at least 90% of the snaps in 23 others.

Since 2021, he’s missed only 35 of 2,341 snaps when he’s played.

That can be traced to 2018 and a new defensive staff.

“Everybody on the back end, we had a clean slate,’’ Moore said. “So, we’re trying to figure out what the positions are: who starts, who’s not going to start, who’s coming off the bench to be that third corner.

“I was the base corner, then we started figuring out who can play nickel the best. They trusted me. My teammates trusted me.

“Just going back from nickel to corner to nickel, that’s just something I’ve been used to doing since 2018. Been doing it for five-plus years, I’ve just got the experience and confidence to just try to make the best play for the team.’’

Injury update

Three players have been ruled out of Sunday’s game: Brents, tight end Kylen Granson (concussion) and starting right tackle Braden Smith (hip.wrist).

Running back Zack Moss (elbow/heel), defensive tackle Eric Johnson II (ankle) and cornerback Tony Brown (ribs) are questionable.

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