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INDIANAPOLIS – No one should fret over any win/loss record in the preseason, but there were some key individual takeaways from the Colts’ 24-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Thursday.
The Colts rested about a dozen starters in Buffalo (see full list below), with the first units seeing right around a quarter of game action.
With the caveat that this is the preseason opener, and that the Colts were missing some major frontline guys, here was what we learned on Thursday night:
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
- Defense Pitches Shutout: It was a very ugly effort from the starting offense on Thursday. Devin Funchess paced the unit with a pair of catches, but the group amassed just 22 total yards on 11 plays. Jacoby Brissett quarterbacked the offense for three series and received zero help from the run game/offensive line. Frank Reich was not pleased with the rushing performance from his starters, with Nyheim Hines totaling just 1 yard on 6 carries. Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith both got beat on various plays, and the offense produced only one first down. What was seen Thursday was similar to the theme of camp so far for that side of the ball—not much separation from the receivers and poor 1-on-1 play from the O-line. Pass protection was an issue all night for the Colts.
- Mixed Bag Defensively: The starting defensive effort on Thursday was better than the offensive counterpart. When the pass coverage went man, you saw nice moments from Quincy Wilson and Rock Ya-Sin. But the pass rush struggled to get home early on. The MIKE linebacker competition had both competitors on the field together, with Bobby Okereke (MIKE) and Anthony Walker (WILL) starting. The second wave along the defensive line did find some big plays. Defensively, the Colts played starters Malik Hooker, Pierre Desir, Margus Hunt and Walker/Okereke. Look for this unit to establish more of a starting group in the coming week or so, after lots of subbing in the early part of camp.
- Deon Cain Returns: There were a couple of catches, a near touchdown and one obvious drop. But Deon Cain playing football again was the most important story for him on Thursday night. Cain finished the evening with 2 catches for 15 yards on 4 targets. Like we’ve seen in camp, you notice zero physical limitations from Cain on the field right now. Growing in confidence is a continued process for him and you know Thursday night was a big step in that. Cain ran with the second unit on Thursday and it shouldn’t be a surprise if he inches his way into more starting reps as the month rolls along.
- Couple Reserves Make Strong Impression: The likes of DE-Carroll Phillips, RB-Jonathan Williams and WR-Reece Fountain should feel pretty good about what they did on Thursday. Phillips might have mostly been in the right place at the right time with two unblocked sacks and a fumble recovery, but they were needed plays for an otherwise vacant pass rush. Williams showed some nice ability to play through contact at 217 pounds and you saw reasons why Chris Ballard is such a fan. Williams, who had 5 catches against the Bills, is competing with a banged up Jordan Wilkins, and newly acquired D’Onta Foreman for that No. 3 running back spot. If you stayed up until the 4th quarter on Thursday, Fountain showed a TV audience what we’ve seen for the last week at Grand Park: some flashy moments, with added consistency. Fountain finished Thursday with 5 catches for 63 yards. Based off when Fountain entered the game on Thursday, he was likely 8th or 9th on the wideout depth chart. It’s going to take repeated receiving efforts like we saw (in games) on Thursday, plus a strong performance on special teams for Fountain to push his way onto the 53-man roster. But Thursday night was easily his best outing as a pro.
- The Battle For QB3: If the Colts do end up needing a third quarterback on their 53-man roster to start the regular season, Phillip Walker didn’t help his cause in that effort on Thursday. Walker was erratic in throwing from the pocket on some very elementary type throws. On the flip side, Chad Kelly showed toughness and delivered in his third-string action on Thursday. Being suspended for the first two games of the regular season is obviously decimating to Kelly winning that No. 3 job out of camp, but he was the better reserve QB on Thursday, in trying to find some roster/practice squad spot in 2019. You saw several moments on Thursday why Kelly earned Denver’s backup job to start the 2018 season. Through the first 11 practices of camp, it’s been Walker as the more consistent option behind Jacoby Brissett. But we didn’t see that at all on Thursday.
-Offensive Starters: QB-Jacoby Brissett, RB-Nyheim Hines, WR-Devin Funchess, WR-Zach Pascal, TE-Mo-Alie Cox, TE-Gabe Holmes, LT-Le’Raven Clark, LG-Quenton Nelson, C-Josh Andrews, RG-Mark Glowinski, RT-Braden Smith.
-Defensive Starters: DE-Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE-Kemoko Turay, DT-Margus Hunt, DT-Tyquan Lewis, LB-Anthony Walker, LB-Bobby Okereke, CB-Pierre Desir, CB-Quincy Wilson, CB-Nate Hairston, S-Malik Hooker, S-Khari Willis.
-Injury Report: The following players did not play for the Colts on Thursday: QB-Andrew Luck (calf), RB-Marlon Mack, RB-Jordan Wilkins (ankle), RB-D’Onta Foreman, WR-T.Y. Hilton, WR-Parris Campbell (hamstring), WR-Penny Hart (hamstring), TE-Jack Doyle (oblique), TE-Eric Ebron, TE-Ross Travis (hamstring), LT-Anthony Castonzo, OG-Ian Silberman (abdominal), C-Ryan Kelly (shoulder), DE-Jabaal Sheard (knee), DE-Justin Houston, DT-Denico Autry, DE-Ben Banogu (hamstring), S-Clayton Geathers, K-Adam Vinatieri. Outside of CB-Jalen Collins getting a bit nicked up late (he walked off the field under his own power), the Colts looked to get through Thursday night extremely healthy, which is a far cry from last year’s preseason opener.
-Key Stat: Here were the quarterback numbers from Thursday night: Jacoby Brissett went 2-of-5 for 21 yards (3 series); Phillip Walker went 8-for-18 for 85 yards and 1 interception (6 series); Chad Kelly went 13-of-19 for 121 yards, along with adding 53 rushing yards and a TD (4 series).
-What’s Next: The Colts will return to Grand Park on Saturday morning, with 5 final practices left of Training Camp. The next preseason game for the Colts will come a week from Saturday (4:00 PM at Lucas Oil Stadium) vs. the Cleveland Browns.
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