The Indianapolis Colts will take on the St. Louis Rams on Saturday at 8:00 p.m. ET in the third preseason game. As we all know, the third preseason game is the one in which teams play their starters the longest, sometimes even into the third quarter. We don't know for sure how long the Colts' starters will play tonight, but we do know that they will play longer than they have in the first two games.
Here are five things that we'll be watching during tonight's game between the Colts and the Rams:
As I already mentioned, the third preseason game is the one in which the starters play the most. Because of that, this is the most meaningful of the preseason games, even though the result still doesn't matter. In this game, however, you want your starters to look good, because it's the closest we'll come to an actual game for the Colts until their regular season opener on September 13. The Colts' starters played relatively well against the Bears last week and left the game with the lead, and we'll be looking for them to continue to improve in more expanded work. I wouldn't expect to see Frank Gore see many opportunities tonight (if any), but Andrew Luck and the passing game could see expanded time. That means opportunities to see T.Y. Hilton, Andre Johnson, and others. And then of course we want to see how the defense holds up, as even though the Rams don't boast one of the league's best offenses, it will still be a nice test entering the regular season.
Continuing that theme of the starters, the offensive line deserves its own section in this preview. Why? Well, because the line was bad enough last week that the talk in Indianapolis this week has focused mainly on the questions and concerns that the unit brings. Some of it is misinformed, but much of it is legitimate concern - such as what we saw last week when the line was beat often in their first two drives. Quite simply, the offensive line needs to be better than they were last week. The face of the franchise is playing behind the line and they need to protect him, but the line's struggles could also jeopardize the effectiveness of the offensive unit. If Luck doesn't have enough time to throw, not only will the Colts not be able to utilize their downfield passing game but will also have to punt quite a bit, as we saw on the first two drives last week. It has only been two preseason games, though, so the hope is that the line will continue to improve and learn to play together. If they're going to do that, however, tonight will be the biggest key toward doing so - while going against a good Rams front seven, too.
I'm really interested in seeing the entire defense on the field, but in particular the defensive line could be a point of interest. Kendall Langford and Arthur Jones have done a good job so far in the preseason, and considering the fact that they are likely going to be the biggest factors in whether or not the Colts' run defense is improved, it will be interesting to continue to watch them. Furthermore, there is a competition at nose tackle between Josh Chapman and David Parry, and I'd expect both players to get reps tonight. How will those two do tonight, and will one of them start to pull away in the competition? We'll also be watching that.
The Colts have had massive troubles in the first two preseason games in two fundamental areas: tackling and special teams coverage. According to Pro Football Focus, the Colts have missed 38 tackles through the first two games - including 11 on special teams. That is something that needs to change. There are other areas in preseason that are more understandable for issues to arise, but tackling is a fundamental aspect of football. Regardless of whether it's because of a lighter training camp or not, the Colts simply need to better in the area and bring ball carriers to the ground. That is true on special teams as well, as that unit has struggled in preseason. Those are two areas that could prove key down the stretch of the 2015 season and are issues that need to be fixed in the preseason.
The Last Chance for Some Players
The first round of roster cuts are due on Tuesday, September 1. That, obviously, means that this is the last game before the cutdown from 90-players to 75-players, and that means for 15 players this will be their last chance. It might be less time than in the past two games for some of the depth guys to play since the starters will see a lot of snaps, but it does mean that players will need to take advantage of any snap that they get. The first round of cuts is looming, and players are looking to make a strong enough impression to stick around at least past the first cuts. Tonight will be the last chance to impress for some depth players on the roster.