We all know that preseason results don't matter, but if ever they were to matter, it would be the third preseason game. That's the game that happened tonight, and the Indianapolis Colts won their first preseason game since 2013, defeating the St. Louis Rams on the road 24-14.
Many of the starters played into the third quarter, but it was very briefly. It was an up and down performance and certainly not without errors, but the Colts starters outplayed the Rams' starters, and that's what is important once the games start to count. That wasn't tonight, and Andrew Luck said it best when interviewed on the sideline by FOX59 by saying that they still have a lot to work on, but they looked better tonight and showed continued improvement. It wasn't perfect, but the Colts looked better than they did in the past two weeks and did a lot of things well.
Obviously, however, the biggest news from the game is the status of defensive tackle Arthur Jones, who left with an ankle injury after the second defensive snap of the game. It's a left ankle injury, and he is a player the team absolutely can't afford to lose. Hopefully it's nothing serious, but we'll provide you with an update when it becomes available.
Let's take a look at some of the notes from the third preseason game:
- It was an up and down night for quarterback Andrew Luck. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown without an interception, and he made some great plays. Many of the throws during the two-minute drill were great anticipation throws by Luck, and then other plays (like the one he dropped over the shoulder to T.Y. Hilton in the end zone that ended up being incomplete) were fantastic as well. But then there were some plays where Luck looked just a bit off. It's nothing to be concerned about, but it wasn't the best showing from Luck. Still, in three preseason games Luck has completed 22 of 36 passes for 275 yards and a touchdown without a turnover, also adding a rushing touchdown and a successful two-point conversion. In eleven drives, Luck has led the Colts to two touchdowns and three field goals (though one of those drives he didn't finish).
- The offensive line looked better tonight, but still not great. If you remember back to week one, the Colts' pass protection looked good but their run blocking looked terrible. Everyone forgot about that because of the struggles in pass protection last week, but tonight's game was much more like the first preseason game than last week's (which is progress). The pass protection, for the most part, looked good. Luck still was hit a couple of times, but that's part of playing in the NFL. At some point, you have to understand that your quarterback will be hit some, and it wasn't anything more than should be normal tonight. But the run blocking? That was another story. Boom Herron and Josh Robinson, the two backs who saw reps with the first team, averaged 2.8 and 0.8 yards per carry, respectively. And it wasn't all their fault. They just didn't have much room to work on a lot of their runs, and the interior of the offensive line was the issue. Lance Louis had a really rough night. And then it's also impossible to ignore the fact that, when Jonotthan Harrison entered the game for two drives with the first team, it was the two worst drives that featured awful interior protection in the run game. Harrison didn't look particularly good, but it wasn't all him either. The reality is simply that the run blocking, primarily the interior, struggled. The good news? Jack Mewhort recovered nicely after a rough week last week, including making a great block on a 3rd and 1 pitch to Boom Herron.
- One more note about the offensive line is the change ups in the starting lineup tonight. After talking all training camp about continuity and playing nobody but Khaled Holmes with the first team at center in camp or the first preseason game, the Colts switched it up a bit last week and gave Jonotthan Harrison some reps with the first team. That continued tonight, as in the offense's six drives, Harrison was the center on three of them (none of them scoring drives). I don't mind competition, but it goes against everything the Colts did and said in training camp this year, so it seems strange. Also strange was the fact that the Colts gave Joe Reitz some work at right tackle tonight in favor of Jack Mewhort. With Mewhort making the move to right tackle, you'd think that the Colts need to give him as much time as possible, so why the heck give Reitz some work at right tackle? I can think of only one reason: the Colts might be thinking about moving Mewhort back to left guard. I don't think anything is imminent whatsoever and I still wouldn't expect it, but perhaps it's something in the Colts' minds. And after seeing Lance Louis tonight at left guard, the team might be thinking that having Mewhort at guard and Reitz at tackle would be better, and it'd be hard to argue with that.
- Erik Walden's strong preseason continued tonight. He recorded two sacks and continues to be the only consistent player at outside linebacker for the team. He has been criticized (often unfairly) by many Colts fans over the past two years, but he did a good job last year and has looked great in preseason this year. That's great to see.
- Pat McAfee's surprise onside kicks are back! Nobody in the NFL was better at onside kicks than Pat McAfee last year, and the surprise onside kick was a great weapon. The Colts utilized that tonight and it worked perfectly. After their first drive (ending in a field goal), McAfee kicked the onside kick and it was recovered by Clayton Geathers. That drive ended with a touchdown and the Colts led 10-0 before the Rams even had their second drive. That surprise onside kick is awesome and McAfee is great at it.
- Jalil Brown, one of the biggest stars of training camp, made a nice interception as he jumped a route tonight. We saw a lot of that in training camp so it was great to see it in a game as well. At this point, he's likely going to be either the fourth or fifth cornerback on the roster.
- Another player who impressed tonight was Tyler Varga, the undrafted running back out of Yale. I really liked him when the Colts signed him as an undrafted free agent, but he didn't get many chances in training camp or in the first two preseason games. Tonight, however, Varga saw a lot of time with the second team offense and looked good. He's a guy who just won't give up and always fights for extra yards. He scored a touchdown tonight, but he impressed most with his effort and toughness.
- A couple of intriguing Colts players saw time with the first team offense - running back Josh Robinson and wide receiver Duron Carter. Neither really did a lot (though Carter did have his best game so far, catching 3 passes for 25 yards), but they're still players to keep an eye on and, regardless of how they do, they needed the reps with the first team to really measure and see where they are at.
- One last note on the offense is about Pep Hamilton's play calling. Now, understand this: I'm not one to complain about play calls in the preseason. Sometimes, the plays are called just to see a specific situation and not always to give the best chance to succeed, and the Colts have things that they really want to see that we don't really know about. So I wouldn't get too upset about preseason play calls. But here's an interesting part of Hamilton's play calls: aside from the two-minute drill (where the Colts were obviously in a full-out passing situation), the Colts ran 12 plays on first down tonight. Nine of them were runs and three of them were passes, and they totaled 34 yards - an average of 2.8 yards per play. That routinely puts the Colts in a situation of needing to make up yards on second and third downs, something we've seen in recent years from the team (mainly thanks to Trent Richardson). Again, it's not a reason to be concerned necessarily, but tonight Hamilton's first down calls were largely predictable and normally didn't work.
- Adam Vinatieri had another great night, hitting all three of his field goal tries - including from 55 yards out. He is five-for-five on field goals this preseason. Clearly, the veteran still has it.
- Injury-wise, the Colts lost Arthur Jones to a left ankle injury in tonight's game, but that's all we know at this point. Obviously, considering the fact that it was an ankle injury that kept him out for a while last year (though it was his other ankle), it's worth keeping an eye on. Also, running back Josh Robinson went to the locker room for a medical evaluation tonight, but that's all we know about it. So we'll keep you updated on that one as well.