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Looking at Chandler Harnish's Performance against the Bills

Colts' third string quarterback Chandler Harnish saw the majority of the plays for the Colts in Sunday's preseason loss to the Rams, throwing the ball 33 times. Josh Wilson went back and watched every one of those snaps to better analyze his performance.

Michael Hickey

Normally after every Colts game this year, there will be an Andrew Luck game recap up on the Tuesday morning after the game. I'm looking forward to that series, but starting it now seemed useless. He threw only 6 passes on Sunday, and besides, it seems like more people are discussing 3rd string quarterback Chandler Harnish.

I wasn't impressed with Harnish at all while watching the game on Sunday. But there were a lot of people defending Harnish and chalking it up to the bad offensive line or receivers or something like that. I wasn't convinced, but decided to go back and re-watch every snap Harnish took to get a better idea of just how Harnish really played on Sunday. What follows are my observations of Harnish's game, broken down by drive (he had ten of them, but one was a cheap one where he just took a knee).

Drive One:

Drive Statistics: 9 plays, resulted in 3 points (Adam Vinatieri 44 yard field goal), Harnish 3/6 for 24 yards (plus a 5 yard rush)

Harnish entered the game with about 10 and a half minutes left in the 2nd quarter, and his first pass attempt came on 2nd down and 5. It was a throw that went out of bounds over Lanear Sampson's head. After that, however, Harnish compiled a nice series of plays to lead the team down the field. On the next play, 3rd and 5, Harnish felt a little pressure but evaded it nicely, stepping up and rolling left before tucking it and running for the first down.

The next play was a play action pass and Harnish hit Robert Hughes on a short out route for a gain of 9. It was an easy throw and his first completion of the game. The net play was a nice comeback route to LaVon Brazill that went for 11 yards, and then it was a quick bubble screen left to Griff Whalen for 4 yards. After that, however, the drive stalled. An unblocked rusher came from the left side and drilled Harnish as he was throwing and it resulted in a hurried pass over the middle that fell incomplete. On 3rd down, Harnish had time (but was still hit as he threw) and the ball fell incomplete on a slant to Sampson - it looked catchable and I would be willing to rule it a drop, but the angle of the view prevents me from saying for sure.

Overall, it was a very nice drive for Harnish. He felt pressure on a few plays but did a good job at avoiding it for the most part and made some nice throws. He led the Colts on a scoring drive on his first possession of the game, and it would also be his last scoring drive that he led.

Drive Two:

Drive Statistics: 9 plays, resulted in a punt, Harnish 4/6 for 32 yards

Harnish again led a nice drive in his second series of the game. The first pass attempt of the drive was completed to Justice Cunningham accross the middle for a gain of 17 yards and a hookup between the last two Mr. Irrelevants, making it a pretty irrelevant play (but at the same time, it was the biggest gain for Harnish all game). The next play was an intended quick out to Cunningham, but former Colt Jerry Hughes batted it down as he rushed at the quarterback.

The next play was a nice throw to Griff Whalen in tight coverage for a gain of 8 yards, and he followed that up with his best throw of the game. It was a play action pass from a run formation on 3rd down and 2, and after Harnish faked the handoff he rolled to the right, pump faked the football, and kept rolling right before throwing on the run to Dominique Jones, squeezing the ball in between two defenders and picking up the first down for a gain of 9.

The next pass attempt came on a 1st and 20 after a penalty, and it was a screen pass to Kerwynn Williams. Williams ran across the field and still managed to lose 2 yards on the play. On 2nd down and 22, Harnish felt the pressure but easily avoided it but rolling left, and he threw a easy lob pass over the middle of the field that went over Griff Whalen's head and was almost picked. It was a bad throw. On 3rd down, the team just ran the ball and then punted.

Drive Three:

Drive Statistics: 1 play, kneel

The only thing that happened on this drive was a kneel down to end the first half. Harnish took over with just 9 seconds left and just took a knee to run out the half.

Drive Four:

Drive Statistics: 4 plays, resulted in a punt, Harnish 2/2 for 14 yards

The first half was pretty good for Harnish. But the second half was a completely different story, and that started with the first drive of the 3rd quarter. Harnish's first pass was a completion across the middle to an open Whalen for a gain of 14 yards, but it was a bit high. Still, that's nit picking and it was a completion for a first down. His next pass attempt came on 2nd down and 2 after a run, and Harnish overthrew Brazill down the left sideline. Even if it hadn't been overthrown, it likely would have fallen incomplete, as Brazill was well covered. On 3rd down and 2, the Colts ran a quick bubble screen to the right to Nathan Palmer, and it went for no gain. The Colts were forced to punt after just 4 plays but they did pick up a first down, which would become a rarity for the team from this point forward.

Drive Five:

Drive Statistics: 3 plays, resulted in a punt, Harnish 0/2

The first play of Harnish's fifth series was a play action pass and Harnish was hit while throwing, although he did have time in between to find a guy and throw it. The ball was just in front of Dominique Jones across the middle and fell incomplete. After a 2nd down run, Harnish dropped back to throw again on 3rd down and , and again he was hit as he threw. This one was a slant intended for a covered Lanear Sampson that was batted up in the air and was close to being picked by a diving defender. The Colts went three and out, the first of a string of three and outs to follow.

Drive Six:

Drive Statistics: 3 plays, resulted in a punt, Harnish 0/2 (with a sack)

This drive was probably the most indicative of Harnish's game. Backed up near his own goal line, Harnish rolled left to avoid pressure after taking the snap and he hit a wide open Robert Hughes in the flat. And he dropped it. Still, it was a nice play by Harnish to get the throw off with the pressure, and it was about as bad of a drop as you could have by Hughes. On 2nd down, he had time (an offensive lineman was pushed back a little bit but not into him) but he overthrew Griff Whalen on a seam route. Though Whalen was covered, Harnish saw the opportunity and he had him, but it was overthrown. On 3rd down, the linebacker blitzed untouched through the B gap on the left side and Harnish was sacked at the 1 yard line. That said, I place the blame for that sack squarely on Harnish's shoulders. The other linemen were engaged blocking people and though the linebacker did indeed come in untouched, Harnish had enough time to see it and adjust accordingly. Instead, he tried to move away at the last minute and it resulted in a sack. He needed to get rid of it faster when he saw the pressure coming. He didn't, and the sack forced the Colts to punt again.

Drive Seven:

Drive Statistics: 3 plays, resulted in a punt, Harnish 1/3 for 8 yards

For the second straight drive, Harnish dropped back three straight plays and the drive ended in a three and out. On first down, the defender blew by the right tackle and appeared to tip the ball as Harnish was throwing, resulting in an incompletion. On second down, Harnish kept stepping up until he found Dominique Jones on a comeback route for a nice gain of 8. That brought up 3rd and 2, and Harnish rolled to the right and threw on the run short to an open Griff Whalen, who was running an out route to the right. Harnish threw low and Whalen nearly made the catch anyway, but the pass was ruled to have hit the ground first. It was a bad throw that should have been an easy first down but that instead resulted in yet another punt.

Drive Eight:

Drive Statistics: 2 plays, resulted in an interception (returned for a touchdown), Harnish 0/2 with a pick

On first down of Harnish's eighth series, he had plenty of time but the throw was broken up by the defense intended for Sampson. The next play was a similar result, with Harnish throwing for Sampson and with the defender trying to jump the route. Both plays the defender got a nice jump on it, and on the second one Jumal Rolle jumped it and picked it off. He fell to the ground, got up, and returned it for a score. While I absolutely think that Sampson deserves blame for that play as well (read more on why here), it wasn't a good play by Harnish and definitely wasn't a great read. The result? A Bills touchdown.

Drive Nine:

Drive Statistics: 3 plays, resulted in a punt, Harnish 0/2

For the fourth time in five drives (and the other being a turnover), the Colts went three and out. But this one wasn't really Harnish's fault. On first down he made a really nice throw on a comeback route along the left sideline to Jeremy Kelley, but he dropped it. After a run on 2nd down picked up 7, Harnish again went to the air to try to pick up a first down, but the third down pass was batted down before it even got a chance to get to Davin Meggett and fell incomplete. Another three and out.

Drive Ten:

Drive Statistics: 7 plays, resulted in a punt, Harnish 4/7, 31 yards

In his last drive of the game, Harnish completed more passes than he did in the other six drives of the second half combined. Running a two minute offense, Harnish came out firing and began hitting them, completing his first four passes of the drive. His first one was a screen to Kerwynn Williams that went for 7 yards, the second was a 15 yard gain to an open Jabin Sambrano, the third a quick throw on a slant to Lanear Sampson for 6 yards out of the no-huddle offense. On the fourth throw of the drive, an unblocked rusher came up the middle and Harnish rolled right towards another defender, so he then threw off balance to Sampson on a crossing route for a gain of 3. That, however, was Harnish's last completion of the game. The next play saw an unblocked rusher (cornerback blitz) come from the left and Harnish got hit as he threw and the ball was way overthrown into the end zone, intended for Sampson. The next play Harnish aired it out to the end zone for Sampson, who had two defenders on him. The ball fell incomplete, but if Sampson had made a better adjustment on the ball in the air, it very well could have been a score. Then on 4th down and 7 from the Buffalo 21 with just 54 seconds left, Harnish felt pressure from the left and overthrew Sambrano on a play that the receiver had no chance on. And just like that, Harnish's day was over as the Colts turned it over on downs.


Game Recap: Harnish 14/33 (42.4% for 109 yards (3.3 yards per attempt) and a pick (plus a kneeldown, a 5 yard rush for a first down, and a sack)

Overall, I will say this of Chandler Harnish on Sunday against the Bills - he was much better than I initially thought while watching the game live. There seemed to be a distinct difference between his first and second halves, but his second half didn't overshadow his first half as much as I previously thought. I also didn't think that his offensive line hurt him as much as his receivers did. The only guy out there that I would feel really comfortable with being in there with Andrew Luck (a good way to measure it) was Griff Whalen.

While there isn't anything exact about my numbers and it's all subjective, I considered 12 of Harnish's 36 dropbacks to be under pressure, and that included the sack (that I blame on Harnish) and a screen pass that was supposed to be under pressure. So really, I only considered 10 of his throws that he truly made to be under pressure. Again, it's subjective, but it's in the ballpark. I also counted 3 dropped passes, which hurt more than the pressures, and 2 passes were batted down at the line of scrimmage.

Overall, I do feel better about Harnish's performance on Sunday, but I still wouldn't say that I am impressed with him. He made a lot more good plays than I thought, but the biggest problem I have always had with him is that he is inconsistent, and that appeared to definitely be the case on Sunday as well.

Chandler Harnish will get a lot more opportunities this preseason to show his ability, and I feel confident that we will see him improve. He wasn't nearly as bad on Sunday as I previously thought, but he didn't do anything to really impress me. Overall, he seemed to just be another guy out there playing a position that doesn't allow anybody to be just another guy. And that right there could be one of the biggest obstacles Harnish must overcome.