Preseason Week One Game Notes: Colts 20, Bills 44

Michael Hickey

The Colts lost their preseason opener in very unimpressive fashion, falling to the Bills by the score of 20-44. Here are Josh Wilson's recap with notes from the game today. And remember - it's just preseason.

The Colts played their first presesaon game of the year today! Woo! Unfortunately, that enthusiasm quickly wore off. Even for someone like me who is used to watching preseason football and was fully prepared for it entering today's game, it was awful. The second half was about as bad of a half of football as you could play.

But hey, it's preseason, and it's no reason to overreact just because the Colts got blown out in a game that doesn't count.

One thing that I did notice, however, is that the Colts goals coming in (stopping the run, running the football, special teams tackling) were not strengths at all today. They were awful. Really, it's hard to find many positives, but there were some. Let's take a look at some notes and observations from the game, because there's really no use "analyzing" this game but instead we just need to look at individual players and see who impressed and who didn't. Here is the first edition of my game notes of the season.

  • The most important thing about preseason games is getting through them healthy, and, well, the Colts didn't really do that either. Inside linebacker Justin Hickman was injured with a right foot injury. He walked off the field under his own power but gingerly. He didn't return, but then again nobody injured in a preseason game ever returns. He was getting x-rays in the locker room. Linebacker Quinton Spears injured his hamstring and did not return. Cornerback Cassius Vaughn injured his left wrist and walked off the field and immediately into the locker room holding it. He did not return either. Rookie defensive lineman Montori Hughes suffered a "burner" and did not return. In addition, the Colts had 17 inactive players for today's game (including 4 starters): cornerback Teddy Williams, safety LaRon Landry, safety Joe Lefeged, safety Larry Asante, safety John Boyett, running back Ahmad Bradshaw, fullback Dan Moore, linebacker Josh McNary, linebacker Jerrell Freeman, linebacker Pat Angerer, linebacker Mario Harvey, offensive lineman Khaled Holmes, offensive guard Hugh Thornton, tight end Dwayne Allen, and defensive end Fili Moala. First round outside linebacker Bjoern Werner was not among the inactives but did not play and was on the sidelines in street clothes. No need to rush him back on the field.
  • The first play of the game was an Andrew Luck pass to Reggie Wayne on a 5 yard out. With all the change this offseason, some things never change. That was Reggie's only catch of the ball game. Luck got two drives and threw 6 passes, completing 4 of them (66.7%) for 51 yards.
  • Luck was sacked once, on a play where the snap was a little delayed getting to him and Mario Williams blew by Anthony Castonzo (who is supposed to be the Colts' best and most reliable lineman) to sack Luck. I guess Luck took responsibility for the play during a sideline interview during the game, saying that it was him messing up the cadence that caused the delayed snap and the sack. Whether that's true or not, I like seeing Luck take the responsibility - actually, I like it especially if it wasn't really his fault.
  • Kavell Conner played well today. He got the start at MIKE inside linebacker and played well. He made a real nice stop on the Bills' first drive of the game on a screen pass on 3rd down to force a field goal try. I really don't know why he hasn't been in the starting discussion as much, but he's a real solid player and he played well again today from what I saw.
  • The two starting outside linebackers, Robert Mathis and Erik Walden, were both less than impressive. Mathis got beat a few times in the run game and got zero pressure on the quarterback. And then Walden wasn't that good at setting the edge or stopping the run or whatever he's supposed to be doing. It sure as heck isn't pass rushing, because he's awful at that. A lot of the criticism of Walden this offseason has been aimed at his contract (which is in no way his fault), but today, it's based on his play on the field.
  • The Colts' pass rush today was TERRIBLE. Well, maybe I can't even say that because the pass rush was almost entirely NONEXISTENT. Off the top of my head, I can only remember two times where the Colts even hit the quarterback, and both of them came from Caesar Rayford. One of them was a roughing the passer penalty and the other was an excellent strip sack that Daxton Swanson took back for a touchdown. Rayford almost blocked a punt as well late in the game. He played a good game and he's a guy to keep an eye on. I like him and think he has potential. He showed some of it today.
  • Coby Fleener had a good game today, catching 2 passes for 37 yards, but on his second reception he broke a tackle, turned it upfield, and then was hit by two guys and dropped the football. The Bills recovered the fumble. The very next play, Aubrayo Franklin got a C.J. Spiller fumble and got possession right back for the Colts. Coby Fleener also dropped a potential touchdown pass in the end zone from Matt Hasselbeck a little later.
  • T.Y. Hilton was the player of the game. He caught 3 passes for 61 yards and a score, and 3 times in my notes I wrote about how T.Y. Hilton made a very nice catch. Of course, the highlight was the touchdown. Matt Hasselbeck faked the handoff and then lobbed it deep down the left sideline for Hilton who had burned the corner. Hilton laid out for the catch, caught it, and slid into the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown. For anybody who was worried that he wouldn't get his chance in this offense, just watch today's game.
  • The Colts passed the ball often when facing a 3rd down and short. Even with the emphasis on running the football, they still are going to be a passing team. Don't worry.
  • Ashante Williams played well today. He saved a touchdown on a Marquise Goodwin kick return and held his own at safety. Just signed a few days ago, that's about as well as could be expected.
  • The other guy signed a few days ago, linebacker Shawn Loiseau, was awful. Just terrible. He looked overmatched out there and was really bad.
  • Another guy who looked really bad was cornerback Sheldon Price. I really liked Price entering camp and thought he was a real promising project player, but he hasn't done much at all in camp and today was beat constantly. The epitome of that was on a touchdown pass from Jeff Tuel to Da'Rick Rogers on a 6 yard slant. Rogers faked out like he was running an out (something that pretty much everybody does when running a slant) and Price bit on it. By the time he realized his mistake, he was several yards behind and Rogers had already scored. Ugh.
  • A guy who looked really good was safety Delano Howell. Because of the injuries at safety he played most of the game (including getting the start) and he played really well too. He was a real bright spot.
  • Cornerback Allen Chapman was another bright spot, as his tackling really impressed me. That's one of the key things to look for in a preseason game, and he certainly was good at it.
  • Another note, Vontae Davis is a real good open field tackler at cornerback. Impressive.
  • A Bills note: I wasn't all that impressed with E.J. Manuel today. Many more people would share my view if he hadn't led a very nice 10 play, 92-yard scoring drive right before halftime.
  • If you thought Josh Gordy was bad at corner, you hadn't seen him at safety yet. He wasn't good there today either.
  • I like the bootlegs in the Colts offense. Problem is, there are times where you can't tell whether it is designed or whether it is because of pressure.
  • Chandler Harnish stunk today. I just don't see what others see in him. I liked him last year and liked him coming into this year, but this past week at camp and then today playing much of the game, he was very, very unimpressive. He threw 33 passes and completed just 14 of them (42.4%) for just 109 yards (3.3 - 3.3! - yards per attempt) and a pick. No, he didn't get much help from his offensive line or receivers, but he was much of the problem too. Even on the play where he was sacked back at the 1 yard line was a play that he should have seen the pressure coming and gotten rid of it. I am really unimpressed with Chandler Harnish so far this year. He's very inconsistent, and even then he's consistently bad more often than he is good. A lot of people are trying to defend him right now on twitter even as I type, but I just didn't see anything in this game to make me think he was good. Sure, he started off pretty well, but that second half was so atrocious that it completely overshadowed anything even slightly positive. Maybe I'll write something this week looking at it further.
  • We did get to see that irrelevant play that we've been waiting for, however, as Chandler Harnish (last year's Mr. Irrelevant) his this year's Mr. Irrelevant Justice Cunningham for a 17 yard gain.
  • Kerwynn Williams also didn't impress me today. Basically, his role needs to be as kick returner and he wasn't great there. On one play he even muffed the kick and after recovering it took it out to only the 7 yard line.
  • Pat McAfee punted well today, averaging 51.4 yards per punt (he punted 7 times) and had 2 pinned inside the 10 yard line. Adam Vinatieri nailed both of his field goal tries today, including one from 44 yards out. Brandon McManus converted his only attempt of the game, a point after attempt.
  • Josh Chapman made 4 tackles and had a pretty good game overall.
  • Griff Whalen was good but nothing extraordinary, catching 3 passes for 26 yards.
  • Lanear Sampson continues to not impress me. He just doesn't look that good out there, doesn't seem to make many catches, and doesn't seem to always give great effort. For example, on Harnish's interception late in the game, Jumal Rolle picked it off after Sampson 1) didn't seem to give a great effort to catch it or break it up and 2) perhaps cut his route off early. Then Rolle went to the ground, stood up, and took it in for a touchdown. Sampson just stood there until it was too late. Even if he thought he had touched him down, Sampson (a guy fighting for a roster spot, mind you) needs to do more than just stand there until the whistle blows. And then on the second to last play of the game, a Harnish throw to the end zone possibly could have been caught but Sampson didn't really turn around. Maybe not, but wasn't a great play by Sampson.
  • Lastly, and I don't know why I saved this until the end, but the worst play of the game for the Colts was the Bills' Marquise Goodwin's 108-yard kick return touchdown (had it been regular season, I think it would have tied an NFL record for longest return). I can't describe it any better than I already did on twitter right after it happened:
  • The biggest positive of all: the Colts still have a shot at going 16-0 this year. They're still 0-0 in the standings that matter. This was just a preseason game, after all.
Welp, that game stunk, but hey - it's just preseason! The Colts have the day off tomorrow before returning to the practice field at Anderson University for their final week of camp on Tuesday. They will have a lot to work on, and I'll be there to watch the progress and keep you up to date. Next Saturday night, the Colts will travel to play the New York Giants in each team's second preseason game.

Lastly, I'll have a game recap much like this one (only hopefully more positive, and shorter - sorry for the super long recap, but you know, there are many more players to look at in preseason) after every game this season, and then on the Tuesday morning following the game I'll have a detailed look at Andrew Luck's game from that week. It's a series that I'm excited about, but since Luck won't be playing much this preseason, I'll probably be doing some other stuff. I think this week I'll look at Chandler Harnish's game more in depth, so be looking for that article in the next day or so.

The most encouraging things I can leave you with is this:
  • Colts football is back!!!!!
  • It's only preseason!
  • At least the Colts know what they need to work on now!

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