INDIANAPOLIS – Well, it looked like no one in the starting lineup got hurt, and that’s always the biggest positive from any preseason game.
It was a rusty preseason debut for the Colts starting offense, while the new Indy defense finished off drives very well on Saturday in Buffalo.
Here is what we learned from the Colts preseason opener, in which they lost to the Bills, 27-24:
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Frank Reich Backs Up His Promise: Well, Frank Reich was certainly a man of his word in playing the starters on Saturday. If you look at the team’s current depth chart, only Shaquille Leonard (back/ankle) and Jonathan Taylor (bubble wrap) were held out of Saturday’s preseason opener. That’s a stark contrast into how the Colts have operated in pervious preseasons. Reich played the starting offense into the second quarter, with the lack of production from that unit contributing to a 4-series look at Matt Ryan and company. Defensively, the Colts had their starting unit in the game for an entire quarter. While the starters aren’t expected to play next Saturday against the Lions, Reich got a much longer look at his first units than any recent Colts preseason opener.
2. Starting Offense Struggles: The caveat with everything this time of year: it’s the preseason. But we report on what we see. And what was seen on Saturday was a very blah starting offense performance by the Colts, especially against a Buffalo defense playing a ton of backups. The Colts starting offense had 4 total drives on Saturday. They recorded just 2 first downs, amassing 62 yards on 20 plays. You had three penalties on the starting offensive line, a sack allowed by new left tackle Matt Pryor and minimal push in the run game. You had a third-down drop by Parris Campbell. And you saw reasons why there are clear questions about this wideout group. Entering Saturday, Frank Reich felt like his starters would play a quarter, maybe less. But the poor play of the offense had the head coach leaving that unit in for a series into the second quarter.
3. First-Team Defense Finishes Drives Well: After some early undisciplined play from the starting defense, the unit responded very well in finishing off drives. Rookie Nick Cross flashed in coverage (and later in the run department). On the second drive for the starting defense, it was veteran Rodney McLeod snagging an interception off a dropped pass by Buffalo wideout Jamison Crowder. The starting defense then forced a three-and-out on the third series. Again, Buffalo’s starters were on the sidelines, but it was a nice showing in getting off the field by Gus Bradley’s group. For the entire day, the Colts were outstanding in taking the ball away, recording 5 takeaways.
4. Some Rookies Flash: Rookie Nick Cross got the start on Saturday and got involved impacting in both the pass and run game. Cross appears to have a slight lead on veteran Rodney McLeod for the starting strong safety job. Wide receiver Alec Pierce had a couple of nice grabs with the second team on comeback routes. Unlike what we’ve seen in camp, it was a much better day for tight end Jelani Woods versus Drew Ogletree. Some solid pressures by DE-Kameron Cline and DE-Ifeadi Odeignbo. Both guys have stood out in Grand Park, in trying to compete for defensive line depth, which is something Chris Ballard is watching closely. Cornerback Isaiah Rodgers showed off his knack for always finding the ball, making a red-zone interception. Quarterback Sam Ehlinger also created some consistency and scoring for the third-team offense. On the flip side, continued concern is there at wide receiver. The reserve offensive line group remains a question.
5. Hot Rod Expands Kicking Battle Led: Well, Rodrigo Blankenship might have just secured his placekicking job again. In this supposed kicking battle, Jake Verity missed a 33-yard extra point in Saturday’s third quarter, which is a mistake that is likely going to be too big for him to climb out of. The plan for Frank Reich on Saturday was to have each of his two kickers take a half of kicking. Unfortunately, the Colts only field goal opportunity in the first half was a 24-yard attempt that Rodrigo Blankenship connected on. On two first-half occasions, Reich bypassed what would have been a great long-distance chance for Hot Rod, foregoing a pair of 56-yard attempts, to go for it on 4th down with the second-team offense. Blankenship did sneak in an extra point from 33 yards out. Still, for Verity to serious challenge Blankenship, there needed to be a wide discrepancy in makes/misses for the inexperienced kicker. And missing an extra point in a preseason game is a massive blow to Verity’s fading chances. Hot Rod takes a big lead as the Colts return to Grand Park, with the waiver wire later this month offering the next best chance for serious placekicking competition.
-Offensive Starters: QB-Matt Ryan, RB-Nyheim Hines, WR-Michael Pittman, WR-Parris Campbell, WR-Alec Pierce, TE-Mo Alie-Cox, LT-Matt Pryor, LG-Quenton Nelson, C-Ryan Kelly, RG-Danny Pinter, RT-Braden Smith
-Defensive Starters: DE-Kwity Paye, DT-Grover Stewart, DT-DeForest Buckner, DE-Yannick Ngakoue, LB-Bobby Okereke, LB-Zaire Franklin, CB-Kenny Moore, CB-Brandon Facyson, CB-Stephon Gilmore, SS-Nick Cross, FS-Julian Blackmon.
-Injury Report: The following Colts got hurt on Saturday and did not return: CB-Isaiah Rodgers (concussion), WR-Keke Coutee (groin).
–Key Stat: There were 6 total turnovers in Saturday’s first half, and the Colts recorded 5 takeaways in the game.
–What’s Next: The Colts will have their first roster cut on Tuesday (from 90 to 85 players). They will have 3 practices at Grand Park next week. Those will come Tuesday-Thursday, with two joint sessions against the Lions on Wednesday and Thursday.