If any preseason game is worth watching, it's definitely the third one. That's the one where the starters play into the third quarter; the one that teams actually game plan for; and the one that gives us the most complete look at just where the team stands.
And let's just say that the Colts looked pretty impressive tonight. After a rough first game, the Colts have rebounded with two very good wins in a row, taking their record to 2-1 in the preseason for the first time since 2003.
Really, that shouldn't surprise any of us. It makes perfect sense that the more Andrew Luck is in the game, the better the Colts look. In fact, with Luck in the game this preseason, the Colts have outscored opponents 34-3. Here's a table of Luck's preseason stats (he's likely finished in the preseason too, as the starters typically don't play in the fourth game):
* Score when Andrew Luck finished his final drive
That's impressive, and that's a good sign for the Colts. As long as Andrew Luck is under center, they will be fine.
Here are the game notes for tonight's game:
- Let's just start with one more note on Luck, shall we? I think he's improved much more than even I thought he would. I thought he would take big steps forward this year, but I think we may have undersold his improvement. You never want to put too much into the preseason showing, but still - he's looked incredibly good in preseason and in camp. Like, really, really good. And some of the plays he is making are just ridiculous. He's improved so much, it's crazy. And that should be scary for the rest of the league, because he was pretty dang good last year, too.
- Kerwynn Williams had a good game tonight. From the opening kickoff to the final handoff, he looked really good. The opening kickoff was returned by the rookie running back to the 40 yard line, and from then on he impressed in the run game too. He led the team with 9 carries for 37 yards (4.1 yards per carry), including a 27 yard run - the longest run by a Colt this preseason. He sealed the game with a first down run on 3rd down and 9 at the end of the game, picking up the first down and allowing the Colts to run out the clock.
- The other running backs looked good tonight, too. Donald Brown had 5 carries for 35 yards (7 yards per carry) and Vick Ballard carried the ball 10 times for 33 yards (3.3 yards per carry). Davin Meggett got some opportunities and he looked good too, carrying the ball 3 times for 20 yards (6.7 yards per carry). Even other guys got involved in the run game, with Luck rushing 4 times for 20 yards and Darrius Heyward-Bey getting one carry for 6 yards on a reverse.
- Andrew Luck looks to have learned how to slide. He looked MUCH better doing that tonight. And, in a preseason game, he did a really good job at avoiding contact when he didn't have to take a hit. Good job by him running the ball tonight. Something about the Browns must make him want to run it, though, as he scored 2 touchdowns on the ground against them last year and ran the ball 4 times tonight.
- DHB had another solid night, catching 3 passes for 33 yards. While I still have some doubts about just how effective he will be for the Colts, he definitely is an upgrade over Donnie Avery. Definitely.
- Reggie Wayne is, well in a word, awesome. He led the team with 7 catches for 79 yards. Even still, there were 3 other passes that, while they may not be considered officially "drops," Reggie would consider them to be. His best play of the night came when he stretched the ball past the first down marker while being dragged down to pick up the first on third down.
- Griff Whalen had a good game tonight too. He caught 4 passes for 57 yards tonight. By the time LaVon Brazill returns from his suspension after week 4, I think he will be the team's 5th wide receiver, not their 4th. Whalen may already have passed him, even. It's hard to tell because Brazill didn't play tonight (injury), and even then the coaches might not fully tip their hand quite yet.
- The rest of the receivers, though? Yeah, they're not impressive. Like, at all. If anybody outside the main 5 (Wayne, DHB, T.Y. Hilton, Whalen, Brazill) makes the roster, I'll be SHOCKED.
- Speaking of Hilton, he now has a touchdown catch in all three preseason games. Anyone spending time worrying about how he'll do behind DHB are just being dumb and wasting their time. We've seen clearly this preseason that Hilton will still have a big role. I'll have a write up on Monday looking at how Hilton will still be a big factor in this offense. Check back Monday morning to read more about the subject.
- Adam Vinatieri is 5/5 this preseason, with makes from 25, 44, 52, 32, and 25 yards. The oldest player in the league has been very good this preseason and has shown that he has still got it.
- In the first quarter, there was a play where the Browns ran a quick "screen" right to Trent Richardson. Erik Walden was 1-on-1 with him in the open flat right and was made to look completely silly. He overran it badly and was totally beat on an open field tackle attempt. I don't usually like to single out guys for one specific play where they looked bad, but... man, was that embarrassing.
- Greg Toler played well tonight. He had a few pass breakups and a few near picks. He had solid coverage on almost every play and looked good.
- In fact, on a larger note, the Colts starting secondary looked really good tonight. It was the first game that Antoine Bethea, LaRon Landry, Vontae Davis, and Greg Toler played together for the Colts, and they looked really good. While the team didn't really get great pass rush yet again, the secondary still looked really good. That is huge and great to see.
- The biggest downside to tonight's game was Anthony Castonzo. He got his right leg rolled up on one of the first plays of the game and limped off the field. Officially, it is a knee sprain. It's unknown how long he will be out, but he's a guy the Colts cannot afford to lose. That was evident tonight, as after he left, the offensive line looked even worse than normal.
- Joe Reitz filled in for Castonzo and didn't look too good, but at the same time, it shows that he's the team's second team left tackle and could mean that he makes the 53-man roster.
- Hugh Thornton saw a lot of playing time tonight in his NFL debut, and he looked good. He played physical and gave nice help. He was a real team player, too, and you always saw him helping guys up. There weren't many bad plays from Thornton tonight and he looked really impressive. It makes you wonder just where the line would be if he was healthy in training camp. I'm pretty sure he'd be starting, at the very least.
- Gosder Cherilus had a bad night tonight. He looked bad tonight. The Browns' Paul Kruger, a free agent many people thought the Colts would go after, totally won the battle of the teams' free agent signings. It wasn't good.
- Stanley Havili showed both his ups and downs tonight in the passing game, catching a 3 yard touchdown pass but also letting a pass go through his hands near the goal line that was then picked off.
- I've given Pep Hamilton a lot of credit for his play calling so far this preseaon, but I have to single out a play call that was really bad. Facing a 3rd down and 5 with around 30 seconds left in the first half, Pep called a draw to the left. Predictably, it led to a punt. When you have Andrew Luck at quarterback in that situation, DON'T RUN IT.
- Marshay Green looked really good tonight. He had an impressive 38 yard punt return early in the 3rd quarter and also had a few real nice defensive plays, too. He's making a very good case for the 53-man roster.
- Speaking of guys with a good case for the 53-man roster... HOW CAN YOU NOT KEEP CAESAR RAYFORD? That guy has been lights out this preseason. Incredible. He notched another 2 sacks tonight to bring his preseason total to 5, the most in the league. 2 of them, including 1 tonight, have been strip sacks, as he uses his long arms and 6 foot 7 frame to get in the backfield and disrupt quarterbacks. I don't think he's a starting caliber player right now and think he still has work to do, but as a role player and depth guy, he's making himself necessary, as the coaching staff would say. If he doesn't make the 53-man roster, something is wrong, and then I think that he could see more playing time than many would assume.
- Mario Harvey had a really good game too, racking up a team-leading 6 tackles, a sack, and 2 tackles for loss. At one point in the game, there was a great sequence by Harvey. On 3rd down and 1, he hit Jason Campbell to force an incomplete pass, and then on 4th down and 1 he stuffed the running back for a loss of yardage. Very good game for Harvey tonight.
- Larry Asante had a nice interception off of a tipped pass by the wideout that was a bit behind the target. Asante caught the ball on the tip and continued running all the way to the end zone for a 48 yard touchdown. It was a really nice play by Asante.
- Pat McAfee had a rough punt that only went for 25 yards at one point tonight and he obviously wasn't happy with it, but outside of that aberration, he was typical Pat McAfee, pinning 3 of his 5 yards inside the 20 yard line. He's just really, really good.
- Mr. Jabin Sambrano, allow me to give you a bit of advice - FAIR. CATCH. Geez. He was absolutely CRUSHED on a punt return tonight (that obviously went for 0 yards). I don't know how he held on to that football. That part was impressive, but still - fair catch that football, please.
- The Browns, with just around four and a half minutes left in the game, brought the score to 20-6 on a field goal. While they didn't necessarily line up looking like it was an onside kick, most people (including myself, which I tweeted before they even lined up) figured it was coming. I guess the Colts' coaching staff didn't, because the Colts didn't look ready for it AT ALL and the Browns recovered. The very next play was the Asante pick-6, so it didn't come back to hurt the team, but it was a mistake on the part of the coaching staff.
- Nathan Palmer got injured tonight and had to be helped off the field. The team announced that it is a knee sprain.
- One final note about the Colts' starting defense, to end this recap - they are starting to actually look good. They've been really impressive recently and are beginning to look like a tough defense. Of course, they're not close to where Chuck Pagano and Greg Manusky want them to be, but they're CLEARLY trending in the right direction. They give up some yards at times, but overall, they look good and haven't given up many points at all.
- First cuts come this Tuesday, with the 53-man cutdown coming in a week. I'll have my latest 53-man roster projection up tomorrow morning, including a list of the guys I think will get cut on Tuesday. Check back then.