The Indianapolis Colts found themselves down 13-0 against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday. The Steelers had drove the ball down on Indy’s defense for a touchdown and scored another one-yard touchdown after a blocked punt. Indy eventually showed up with a touchdown in the second quarter, but still, Pittsburgh was in control of the game.
That was until Steelers quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw up a jump ball to receiver George Pickens. Instead of Pickens, who has a reputation for making tough catches, coming down with the ball, Colts second-year safety Nick Cross was able to out jump and out physical Pickens, snatching the ball out of the air for the first interception of his career.
Cross returned the interception for 18 yards and the play ended up being the turning point in the game. Indianapolis would go on to score 23 more points in the game and Pittsburgh wouldn’t score another point. The big play by Cross was an explanation for why he’s been on the field more defensively for Indy; he’s a talented player and the NFL world is now getting to see that.
Nick Cross playing more on defense for Colts
Back in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Indianapolis Colts traded away a pick so they could move up and select Nick Cross in the third round. He immediately became a player that fans and media members were enamored with. All throughout his first offseason, he made impressive plays in training camp and in the preseason. This led to Cross opening the 2022 season as one of the starting safeties.
Cross would end up on the bench by Week 3 of his rookie season, though. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley eventually explained that Cross was just thinking too much, and as a young player, he could benefit from sitting behind some veterans. That’s what happened in 2022, as Julian Blackmon, Rodney McLeod, and breakout rookie Rodney Thomas II handled all the safety duties.
Unfortunately for Cross, he entered this season stuck behind Blackmon and Thomas on the depth chart. Still, Bradley recognized Cross’ growth and versatility, and admitted that the defense needed to find a way to get him on the field more. Indianapolis struggled to do that in the first 11 games this year, with Cross playing a combined 20 defensive snaps over that span.
Cross has had more defensive snaps than that in each of the last three Colts games. In Week 13, Cross had 31 defensive snaps, which was 36% of all defensive snaps. In Week 14, Cross played 29 defensive snaps (48%) and 26 defensive snaps (45%) in Week 15. In the last three games, Cross has 12 tackles, two pass deflections, and the one interception.
As he continues to emerge for the Colts, it’ll be interesting to see what Indianapolis does with the secondary this offseason, as the team will have some decisions to make. Julian Blackmon and Kenny Moore II will be free agents, but both have been playing really well. Will Indy let one of them walk and promote Cross to a starting role? We’ll see in the offseason.