Here are the three things I'm looking for in the Colts third preseason game of 2013:
I'm not going to sugarcoat this... I have my doubts about Chuck Pagano as a head coach.
When I write something like that, what I do is I separate my liking Pagano, the person, from the other Pagano, the head coach. Nice people who are brave and overcome difficult circumstances are to be admired. Pagano (the person) is an admirable man.
However, NFL head coaches aren't paid to be admired or liked. They're paid to accomplish what the owners sets out for them to accomplish.
The Colts came out flat and embarrassingly unprepared for their first preseason game. The guy who took 100% of the blame for that was Pagano, and rightly so. In the second game against the Giants, the Colts played with better energy and effort. However, the two areas Pagano directs most of his personal attention to in practices - the defense and special teams - continue to underwhelm. Special teams coverage in particular.
The third preseason game is the one where coaches gameplan the opponent and do their best to simulate a regular season experience. Starting safety LaRon Landry - a player Pagano has repeatedly called a "game-wrecker" - is expected to make his Colts debut. If there is a game where Pagano wants to show off this supposedly vaunted defense that Jim Irsay expects to be a franchise "cornerstone" in 2013, THIS is the game to do it.
If the defense doesn't show up, or if the special teams continue to underwhelm, Pagano should look for another "ear full" from Irsay.
I'm looking to see if this defense is ready, because by now it should be. There are no more excuses. The front office unceremoniously dumped Dwight Freeney this offseason because he didn't fit Pagano's hybrid 3-4 scheme. They replaced him with a cast-off from Green Bay (Erik Walden) and a rookie who is visibly uncomfortable playing outside linebacker (Bjoern Werner).
I have my doubts. I'm looking for Pagano to make those doubts go away.
Mike McGlynn hurt his knee this week in practice. He's out for today's game and in his place at right guard is fourth-year veteran Jeff Linkenbach.
I'm sure more than a few of you pumped a fist when you heard McGlynn was hurt, only to feel dirty and disgusting five seconds later when you realized that you actually cheered a Colts player's injury. I'm here to tell you to not kill yourself over that. Your issue isn't with McGlynn. It's with the coaching staff.
Instead of being angry at yourself for cheering McGlynn's injury, be mad at this coaching staff who are thick-headed enough to think he can play.
With Linkenbach starting, I'll be watching to see if the run blocking and interior line protection improve. After re-watching the two previous games, it's obvious to me that McGlynn has been a disaster. So has Samson Satele, but we've covered just how inept he is as a pass blocker.
Rookie interior linemen Hugh Thornton and Khaled Holmes are also slated to see some snaps. I'm curious to see how they hold-up.
Don't let those 6 sacks by the second and third units in last week's game give you a hard-on. When the Colts first unit defense was on the field, Giants quarterback Eli Manning had all day to throw the ball. The pass rush so far this preseason has not be stellar, and it needs to show it can generate pressure against a Cleveland passing attack that looks for big plays early and often.
Back-up linebackers Caesar Rayford and Bjoern Werner have shown flashes of brilliance. Robert Mathis and Lawrence Sidbury have been invisible.
The play of Werner is particularly fascinating. As I noted above, Werner looks much more comfortable and significantly more explosive as a pass rusher with his hand on the ground. This is NOT what the Colts envisioned when they drafted him. Chuck Pagano and his defensive coaches have spent the entire offseason converting Werner from a 4-3 defensive end at Florida State to a 3-4 outside backer.
Werner should see significant action against Cleveland's first unit o-line. If he's blasted and dominated when he starts plays standing up, but later on looks impressive when he's in a three-point stance, that's not a good thing.
The Colts need immediate pass rushing results from Werner, Sidbury, and other offseason acquisitions like defensive end Ricky Jean Francois. I'll be looking to see if these guys are able to put heat on Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden.