The third (and most important) preseason game is upon us - the 'dress rehearsal'. This is the game that should give fans a realistic look at their team and answer some of the lingering questions going into the season. The game is getting national attention (in case you haven't heard, Robert Griffin III is also playing), meaning a lot of people will have their eye on this game. Here are a few things people will be watching for:
Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III?
The national media is obsessed with comparisons (Luck to Manning, Luck to RGIII) and this game is the perfect excuse to amp it up. So far this preseason Luck has been called a top ten quarterback (by Ron Jaworski) and Sports Illustrated's Peter King said that he'd take Luck over every quarterback except Aaron Rodgers if he were starting a team right now. That's awfully high praise for a rookie quarterback with barely three quarters of preseason football under his belt. If Luck can continue his incredible preseason performance it'll justify the early attention and, perhaps more importantly, give Colts fans a good idea of what to expect this season.
RGIII is playing well and his athletic ability is tough to ignore. He will undoubtedly want to show off that ability to justify the belief that he was worthy of being picked #1 overall. Griffin also has to quiet some chatter about his own teammate, quarterback Kirk Cousins. The Redskins shocked fans when they drafted Cousins in the fourth round (especially since they already drafted Griffin) but he's played well - So well, in fact, that there are some people who believe he is outplaying Griffin. It'll be interesting to see if the national spotlight is enough to put those doubters to rest.
Who is going to fill the void left by Austin Collie?
There is a lot of uncertainty about just how long Collie will be out. Will he be ready Week 1? Put on the PUP list? Put on IR or released? One thing is certain - he won't be playing on Saturday. Donnie Avery will be suiting up for the first time this preseason and should have every chance to show he is back to the player he was in St. Louis. Griff Whalen turned some heads last week and several people believe he might be the answer. T.Y. Hilton and LaVon Brazil are both trying to separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Both have been solid, but neither have shown that they're ready to compete for serious playing time. According to WR Reggie Wayne, this is the most talented group of receivers that Colts have had in 12 years. Time to find out.
Who is starting opposite Jerraud Powers?
The Colts added yet another cornerback this week when they traded a 2014 draft pick to St. Louis for Josh Gordy and trade speculation continued with the tweet storm caused by Hurricane Irsay. The team has obviously not been pleased with the performance at the position so far. The Indianapolis Star's Mike Chappel said he thinks it's possible the other starting corner isn't even on the roster yet, which seems entirely possible. There are a lot of players competing for playing time - It's time to see if any are worthy of it.
What about the linebackers?
Pat Angerer is going to miss some time with a broken foot and that left the door open for Jerrell Freeman. Freeman has been impressive throughout camp and caused a fumble during last week's game against the Steelers. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney have been unusually quiet so far in the new 3-4 scheme. Freeney even went as far as to tell Reggie Hayes that he wasn't a linebacker but a ‘rushman' claiming that he will rush the passer 70-80% of the time. Jerry Hughes has put the most pressure on quarterbacks this preseason with three sacks, the most among the linebackers. um... I mean, (ahem) ‘rushmen'.
What is the depth chart at runningback?
We know that Donald Brown has done enough to be the starter (unless Irsay shocks everyone by bring in Maurice Jones-Drew), but after that things get cloudy. Vick Ballard made a lot of people believers after the Steelers game while Delone Carter and Mewelde Moore were out with rib injuries. Both should feel some pressure to get on the field and show what they can do.
Coby Fleener was a high draft pick, right?
Fleener is 6-6, 250 pounds and so far has played much smaller. I envisioned this guy being Luck's go-to guy, especially in the redzone. So far, Fleener has just 4 catches this preseason and 3 of them went for a combined 14 yards (4.67 yard average). I have to believe that the Colts had bigger things in mind when they drafted Andrew Luck's top receiving threat at Stanford. At his size he should be winning jump ball battles in the endzone - I'd like to see some of that Saturday.
Who is going to return kicks - and will they be any good?
Most of you probably read the article that quoted Ryan Grigson sharing the story of Jim Irsay telling him to make fixing special teams a priority. This was obviously in reference to kick coverage and kick returns (I doubt that Irsay is too upset with Adam Vinatieri or Pat McAfee). The kick coverage has been pretty decent so far (mission accomplished) but the kick returners have left a bit to be desired. T.Y. Hilton was supposed to be a game changer in the return game but has been mediocre to this point on punt returns. LaVon Brazil and Jabin Sambrano haven't done anything real impressive on kick returns either.
Can the offensive line gel in time for the regular season?
The Colts offensive line played much better in the game against the Steelers than it did against the Rams but it is clear they still have work to do. There has been too much pressure on Luck the first two games and they will have to right the ship against an aggressive Redskins defense to make sure he stays upright for the regular season. (Remember, this is another part of the team that has been rumored to have been part of Irsay's super secret trade winds)
This team is going to be better at tackling, right?
One of the most frustrating occurrences over the last several years is the poor tackling by the Colts (mainly in their secondary) and it reared it's ugly head again on Sunday night against the Steelers. Antonio Brown took a Ben Roethlisberger pass 57 yards through the Colts defense (who missed more than four tackles along the way). Greg Manusky surely wasn't happy with that performance and it'll be interesting to see if there is a more focused approach to bringing down the ball carrier against the Redskins.
Will the Colts regret letting Pierre Garcon leave?
Lost in the shuffle of RGIII and Luck is that Pierre Garcon will be suiting up against his old team. Most NFL players have large egos and Garcon will want to show the Colts that they made a mistake. The Colts don't want to be embarrassed and will probably pay Garcon a little extra attention.
The game is receiving arguably the most hype for a preseason game in quite awhile. As I heard someone say the other day, "the games don't count, but they aren't meaningless," which sums up my opinion of this game. Don't write off the Colts in 2012 if they perform poorly on Saturday - and don't send them to the Super Bowl either - but we should get a better idea at what this team will look like this season..... But it still isn't worth a $35 t-shirt.
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