The Indianapolis Colts returned to the football field tonight for their second preseason game, and it was better than their first one. With that said, however, they still lost 23-11 to the Chicago Bears at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The starting offense started slowly thanks to pressure on quarterback Andrew Luck, but on their third drive they rebounded by going 89 yards in nine plays, a drive that was capped off by a five-yard touchdown run by Luck and a two-point conversion pass to Andre Johnson. The starting defense, overall, did a pretty good job, as they held the Bears to just two field goals - both of which were set up in large part by special teams. The defense wasn't perfect, but they did a pretty good job. The Colts led at halftime, 11-9. That's the good news.
There were still a lot of issues, though. The offensive line didn't look good tonight. The tackling was still very poor. The special teams unit was still underwhelming. The penalties piled up. The second-team defense still struggled. And the backup quarterbacks were still terrible. The preseason is the time to work on these things, but it was still pretty rough and many of them were the same issues we saw last week.
With that said, let's look at a few notes from the game tonight:
- It was another nice night for Andrew Luck. He completed 5/9 passes for 71 yards, but one of his incompletions was on a flat-out drop by T.Y. Hilton and a couple of others came while Luck was pressured (more on that in a minute). The first two drives with the starters both ended in punts, but the third drive was a beauty. Luck led the Colts 89-yards downfield in nine-plays, hitting on 5/6 passes (with the only incompletion being a drop) for 63 yards, and he capped off the drive by tucking the football and running it into the end zone himself for a five-yard score. Then, to make things even better, Luck rolled right and hit Andre Johnson on the two-point conversion.
- Speaking of that two point-conversion, I love the decision by Chuck Pagano to go for it. Sure, it's probably just because it was preseason, but it's something I'd like to see more of from the Colts throughout the season. The Colts should be able to get the ball into the end zone from the two-yard line often, which they did tonight. It was a perfectly executed rub route that got Andre Johnson open and Luck found him on the rollout.
- Last week, the Colts' first team offensive line did a good job in pass protection. This week? Not so much. Starting on the first drive, it was rough. Jack Mewhort, who made the move to right tackle this offseason, was beat on consecutive plays. On the first one, he was beat inside and Luck was sacked, and then on the next play he was beat again. There were also plays where pressure came up the middle, and then left tackle Anthony Castonzo was beaten by Jared Allen to force an incomplete pass also. It was a pretty rough night for the starting offensive line.
- Interestingly, there was a change at one point with the offensive line. After the first few drives, center Khaled Holmes was replaced with Jonotthan Harrison - though the rest of the starting offensive line remained in the game. That was the first time since training camp began that we saw a center other than Holmes in with the first team line, so that was interesting enough. But then, when the second half started, Holmes was out there with the second-team offensive line. What's the reason for this? I don't know. It's very strange - with all of the talk and emphasis on continuity, I'm not sure if it would be a great sign if the Colts' coaching staff is already starting that competition again. Before we jump to conclusions, however, let's see what they do moving forward or the reasons for the move. Right now, though, it's just strange.
- Who would have thought I would be saying this entering the game, but I thought there were a lot more positives from the defensive line tonight than from the offensive line. I thought Kendall Langford did some good things, as did Arthur Jones. David Parry saw significant work with the first team at nose tackle, and I think so far he has been their best option there by far this preseason. I'd expect him to continue to get more first team reps. Henry Anderson also saw a couple of reps early on with the starters and did some good things. We also saw some real nice plays from Montori Hughes tonight, too.
- The outside linebackers also impressed tonight. Erik Walden had a very good game, especially right from the start. On the second play of the game he set the edge perfectly and made a nice stop in the running game, and then he followed it up with a nice pass rush that beat the right tackle and drew a penalty. He later notched a sack and played very well overall. The same was true of Trent Cole, who forced quite a bit of pressure and was active in making plays. Jonathan Newsome made a couple of plays, too.
- We saw the Colts' debut for Frank Gore tonight, though it didn't last long. Two carries, ten yards, and then he was done. He normally doesn't play much in the season (and that's for the best with a veteran running back), but if he can keep doing what he did tonight (averaging five yards per carry) the Colts will love it.
- We also saw the return of Vick Ballard tonight after nearly two years of recovering from injuries. He saw just two carries and managed just four yards, but the big thing was that he was back out there. It's an awesome story and easy to root for him. Now, however, we must acknowledge this reality: he needs to impress in order to earn a roster spot. And he needs more carries - and to be more productive with the carries he does get - to do that. I understand that the Colts don't want to rush him back too quickly, and that makes total sense, but at some point he needs to show that he's still worth keeping around.
- I'm starting to think that, this year, instead of "FEED MONCRIEF" it will be "FEED ROBINSON" for many Colts fans. Josh Robinson just continued to impress tonight and seems to be consistent with every carry. He has been the star of the preseason for the Colts and deserves more playing time, perhaps even some with the first unit next week. I'm not typically one to complain about playing time in the preseason because, well, the Colts want to see different things, but I think Robinson deserves more and more chances.
- For the second week in a row, Matt Hasselbeck had a rough game. Tonight he completed 6/9 passes for 59 yards, but he also threw an interception and lost a fumble. Through two games, Hasselbeck has completed 14/26 yards (53.8%) for 131 yards (5 yards per attempt), no touchdowns, a pick, and a lost fumble - good for a passer rating of just 51.9. Is this symbolic of where the veteran really is at in this point in his career? Perhaps. But I'm not going to get too concerned about it for two main reasons: 1) he's still the best backup quarterback option on the roster, and 2) the Colts are in major trouble if Andrew Luck goes down no matter who the backup is.
- The backup quarterbacks so far for the Colts this preseason (Matt Hasselbeck and Bryan Bennett): 19/49 (38.8%) for 183 yards (3.73 yards per attempt), 0 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and two lost fumbles, good for a passer rating of 24.4. They've been, in a word, terrible.
- I think there are two issues that have really been prevalent over both of the team's first preseason game that should be pointed out. Firstly, the tackling. In a word, it has been horrendous. It was a bit better tonight, but that's not saying much. The Colts still had some trouble bringing the ballcarrier to the ground, which was evidenced most clearly on Jeremy Langford's touchdown run. The Colts had him stopped in the backfield, but they let him slip away and he took the ball the other direction for a score. The Colts still had trouble tackling tonight. Secondly, the special teams. Take, for example, the starting field position for the Bears on their first four drives: their own 40, their own 49, their own 37, and their own 42. By comparison, here's the starting field position for Andrew Luck and the offense on his three drives: their own 21, their own 7, and their own 11. The Bears' worst with their starters was the 37 yard line, while the Colts' best with their starters was their own 21. Pat McAfee has been doing a good job punting (his first kickoff went out of bounds, which was a rare mistake) but he has been outkicking the coverage. The coverage units have not been good through the first two weeks - perhaps not bringing back Sergio Brown or Andy Studebaker, two special teams standouts, could have a bigger impact than initially thought? Whatever the reason, the special teams unit hasn't been as good as we've come to expect.
- There are a few injury updates to note coming out of the game. Firstly, wide receiver Phillip Dorsett was injured while catching a slant from Matt Hasselbeck, and he stayed down on the field getting looked at by trainers before walking gingerly to the sideline, before then getting looked at some more by the trainers. Officially, it is a knee injury, but the Colts listed his return as probable - signifying that it's not serious. Of course, with it being preseason he didn't return, but he seems to be ok. Cornerback Greg Toler was also injured, as he suffered a neck strain. He didn't return, but it doesn't appear that the injury is very serious either. Outside linebacker Daniel Adongo was injured late in the game, and it appeared the trainers were looking at his hand on the sidelines, but it was hard to tell. We'll pass along an update on his status when we get it. [UPDATE: According to Chuck Pagano after the game, Adongo had cramps. That didn't seem to be what was wrong with him, but that's the diagnosis from the Colts - and it's good news, too.] Also of note is that cornerbacks Vontae Davis (groin) and D'Joun Smith (concussion) both returned to action tonight.