INDIANAPOLIS — Akeem Ayers signed with the Indianapolis Colts hoping to do more as a pass rusher, he also brought with him a solid set of pass coverage skills at the outside linebacker position.
And while Ayers has been able to rush the passer much more while in Indy, he showed off on Sunday that his coverage abilities were still sharp, as he picked off Houston Texans quarterback Brock Osweiler with a nifty play in the second quarter of Sunday's game at Lucas Oil Stadium.
With just less than 12 minutes remaining in the second quarter and the Colts and Texans tied at 3, Houston looked like it was mounting one of its better drives of the game to that point. But facing a 3rd and 1 from the Indianapolis 41-yard line, it looked as if the run would be the best option for Osweiler.
Instead, Osweiler faked a handoff to running back Alfred Blue to his left, and, after a long drop, dug in on the Colts' helmet at midfield and heaved a pass to his left intended for tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz at the 30-yard line.
Ayers, who had read the play fake to perfection, had drifted back into coverage, and was right there at the 30 facing Osweiler to pick off the pass thrown right at his chest.
From there, Ayers darted his way 25 yards through several blue and white bodies to get the Colts' offense to the Houston 46-yard line.
"Usually I'm on the backside playing coverage, but a lot of times I delete people out the back side," Ayers said of the play. "When they know what coverage we're in, they'll try to run those deep overs (routes), and it was me just doing what I'm supposed to do — just playing my responsibility. And the quarterback is never going to see me if he tries to throw that route — nine times out of 10 they're not going to see me. So just drop back, do my coverage, read my coverage and I was able to steal that route."
The play showed off Ayers' versatility, which was a huge selling point for the Colts when they signed the 2011 second-round pick on Sept. 6 after his release by the St. Louis Rams three days prior.
With the Rams — who signed Ayers as an unrestricted free agent prior to the 2015 season — Ayers said he was utilized more as a coverage linebacker than a pass rusher, as he registered a career-low 0.5 sacks in 16 games with 10 starts.
The UCLA product, who has also had stints with the Tennessee Titans — who drafted him in the second round (39th overall) in the 2011 NFL Draft — and the New England Patriots, said he was excited about the prospects of playing in Colts defensive coordinator Ted Monachino's system, which he hoped would allow him to rush the passer much more often.
That has been the case to this point. In 13 games, Ayers had collected two sacks and three quarterback hits, while also adding 14 total tackles and one tackle for loss.
But the interception on Sunday for Ayers — his fourth-career pick — was a perfect example of his all-around game.
"It's huge," Ayers said of his versatility. "I think that's allowed me to have a lot of opportunities, you know what I mean? Some places didn't work out for me, but that I'm able to do things like drop into coverage and I'm able to be effective rushing the quarterback, I think it just allows for me to have more opportunities. And when I'm out there, I just have to take advantage of the opportunities."
Monachino said he's been impressed with Ayers' contributions this season.
"Akeem is a very talented football player. He can do a lot of things well," the first-year Colts defensive coordinator said. "He can cover, he can run, he can rush. He can do a lot of things.
"We're going to keep growing his role because those players are hard to find, guys that can do those things. Those things are all very important, right?" Monachino continued. "If you got a guy that can rush and a guy that can cover a core receiver, you find ways to use those guys as much as you can. His role will continue to grow."