Robin Alman | Getty Images
INDIANAPOLIS – A new series on 1070TheFan.com this year will be defining ‘hits’ and ‘misses’ from the previous game.
After some nice moments in Week One of the preseason, things were not as positive for the Colts in losing, 20-19, to the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night.
What was the good and bad from Week Two of the preseason?
-Front Seven Flashes: John Simon, Hassan Ridgeway, Darius Leonard are three names that stood out to me on a consistent basis. The three were at it again on Monday night. Simon had the bull rush sack against the Ravens starting offensive line. Ridgeway then added another two sacks, making me want to see him against definite starters this Saturday. And Leonard just moves in a fluid nature that we haven’t seen in Indianapolis for several years. The pass rushing off the edge and the run defense still needs work, but these are three guys that have impressed early on.
-Clayton Geathers: Listen to Frank Reich gush about Clayton Geathers, and hopefully seeing Malik Hooker playing, too, on Saturday: “From the start, when (Geathers) got back on the field you could just feel his presence. Just thinking about getting excited about getting Hook back out there as well. Two playmaking safeties can make a huge difference in a defense. I mean, a huge difference.” Geathers played 20 snaps in 4 series on Monday. His biggest impact came when forcing a fumble on punt coverage, but he also made a nice play in run defense, shedding a block in space and making a sure tackle. Geathers looked different to me than the guy who was a little hesitant when on the field last season.
-Defensive Hustle: One difference that is obvious with this new defense is a major emphasis on running to the ball. The ESPN announcing team showed a clip from OTAs with the Colts literally practicing pursuit drills to the corner of the end zone. New color man Jason Witten was in Dallas with Colts’ defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. So, he watched first-hand the defensive staff coaching effort and wanting a flow to the ball from 11 guys. The Colts, who are deprive of enough talent on that side of the ball, must do this every week in 2018 to try and create plays based strictly off effort. You watch the Colts on Monday night and you do see some more speed and plenty of guys running to the ball.
-Adam Vinatieri’s Leg Still Powerful: Should we just pencil Vinatieri into this category every week? That 57-yarder from Vinatieri tied his career-high, which dates back 16 years ago. When the starting offense has sputtered this season, Vinatieri has been automatic from long distances. It’s a weapon the Colts will once again lean on this season, especially if the Colts can’t improve on their 31st red zone ranking from last season.
-Is Quincy Wilson Just Not A Practice Player? (Duck). No, seriously, Quincy Wilson was good on Monday night. He had the highest Pro Football Focus grade for any defender, allowing 1 reception for 6 yards in 4 balls thrown his way. While Wilson was the 4th cornerback to enter the game on Monday, behind Kenny Moore, Nate Hairston and Pierre Desir, he did a nice job when targeted. Wilson has to be such a frustrating player to coach given his better play in games, versus practice. But it’s better to be that way, then the other way around.
-Braden Smith Offers Some Hope: It’s probably too much to put Smith in the ‘hit’ category, but he actually hung in there better than I thought. Smith did have one holding penalty as a tackle (and one as an extra tight end). However, in terms of blocking, Smith held his own out on the edge more often than not. This coaching staff has not been afraid this preseason to extend the leash on their rookies a bit, with Smith and Nyheim Hines immediately coming to mind. That’s smart and needed when you have such an important draft class. Smith has had virtually zero game reps at right tackle since his freshman season at Auburn, so snaps like he received on Monday are crucial for his development and evaluation. This isn’t so much of a ‘hit’ for Smith’s exceptional play, but rather a pat on the back of the coaching staff for giving the rookie a game opportunity against a stout edge combination.
-Fundamentals Absent: I get that the Colts are keeping things vanilla in the preseason from a play calling standpoint. But the fundamental issues are still maddening. You had 13 penalties for 129 yards. You had drops/mishandling of catchable balls from Ryan Grant, Chester Rogers and Jack Doyle. Plus, the pass catchers offered minimal separation in passing patterns. You had a forced interception by Andrew Luck with Doyle standing two feet out of bounds, thus taking points off the board. Turning the ball over three times and two empty possessions in the red zone will get you drafting in the top-10 again next April.
-Starting Defense Yet To Find True Stops: Russell Wilson and Joe Flacco have played 4 series against the Colts in the preseason. Two have gone for touchdowns, one reached Colts’ territory and one was gifted back to the Colts via a muffed QB/RB exchange on 3rd-and-1. That’s 13 first downs given up in 4 series, with the only ‘stop’ coming from that fumbled short yardage attempt. From the small sample size we’ve seen so far in game action, this defense is bending hard right now and just praying it doesn’t break. Let’s not act like Seattle or Baltimore have some elite offenses either.
-Nyheim Hines Has The Yips: Oh boy. The concerns over Nyheim Hines having some ball security issues are here. Hines had two more problems on Monday night after three muffs/fumbles in Week One of the preseason. Even though Hines was a productive returner in college, he still had 7 fumbles in his final 2 seasons at North Carolina State. I get the Colts wanting to use the preseason as a chance for Hines to correct this, but you wonder how these problems might be affecting the rest of his game. The Colts are putting a lot on Hines’ plate, with running back and wide receiver responsibilities as well. Cutting Hines would not be smart at all right now. Lesson his load, develop him and work with one of your talented offensive weapons. Mishandling preseason punts/kicks is not a definite cuttable offense in my mind.
-Starting Clarity Still Not There: Yes, Braden Smith was okay in my eyes on Monday. But you are no closer to settling the starting jobs at right tackle, defensive end or cornerback. Frank Reich said after Monday’s game that such competitions will extend through Saturday’s third preseason game. Will Denzelle Good get back on the practice field this week and re-enter the starting battle at right tackle? Has John Simon finally done enough to replace Margus Hunt as a starting defensive end? Is Quincy Wilson now back in the mix to start at corner? These questions still remain with practice/game reps in the preseason rapidly coming to a close.
-Andrew Luck Faces Some Adversity: The first real adversity Andrew Luck has faced in the last month is here. After a struggling first day of camp, Luck was very efficient in the final 17 practices at Grand Park. He did his job in leading two scoring drives in the preseason opener. But things were bumpy against the Ravens. Luck and the offense looked like a unit missing its top wideout, running back and left tackle. Expecting things for Luck to be just a steady growth right into the regular season was a bit much. Facing a complex/experienced Baltimore defense was certainly different than seeing the Colts every day at Grand Park. Let’s see how Luck responds on Saturday, as he enters what is expected to be his final preseason action this year.