The Indianapolis Colts made their preseason debut tonight and they managed to pull out the win on the road, a welcome achievement whether it’s preseason or not. The Colts defeated the Buffalo Bills 19-18 tonight to win their preseason opener.
The Colts had last week’s Hall of Fame game cancelled, but I’m sure they’ll take the result tonight. It wasn’t the prettiest game, but that’s a given for the preseason. The Colts got nice catch-and-run touchdown receptions by Jordan Todman (from Scott Tolzien) and by Chester Rogers (from Stephen Morris), and they also added two Adam Vinatieri field goals to win the game. The defense sealed it at the end, as even though they allowed a touchdown with no time left they got the stop on the two point conversion try.
Overall, it was a nice preseason debut for the Colts and it should be encouraging for many Colts fans. The game doesn’t mean anything, but there were several performances that might, so here are some initial notes from tonight’s game:
- Camp stars continue to shine. If you followed along with our camp coverage, you surely heard about defensive lineman T.Y. McGill and wide receiver Chester Rogers. One of the keys to making the roster is translating strong camps to strong preseasons, and both of them certainly did that tonight. McGill made several plays tonight and blew up a couple of Boom Herron runs in the backfield. Chester Rogers made the play of the night, as he caught a very good pass from Stephen Morris and then got away from the defender, breaking into open field and running for a 57-yard touchdown.
- Young outside linebackers flash. In training camp, several of the Colts’ younger outside linebackers made a positive impression, but we needed to see it translate to the field. The first game was a positive one in that regard, as Earl Okine, Curt Maggitt, Ron Thompson, and Trevor Bates all did some good things. Maggitt did a good job setting the edge from the strongside outside linebacker spot, while Thompson got some good pressure at times - including one where he almost got a sack but fell just short. Bates also made a couple of nice plays, but the biggest standout from the outside linebacker position was Earl Okine. He had his spin move on display and had a nice quick initial step, generating several pressures and finishing one for a sack as well. I think there’s plenty to be encouraged by from the depth outside linebackers from their preseason debut. Even Josh McNary added a sack as well, though he did so Jonathan Newsome style (meaning he was unblocked).
- Josh Ferguson the number two back. One of the most notable things from the starting lineup tonight was the fact that with Frank Gore out it, it was Josh Ferguson getting the start at running back. Let’s put the pieces together for a moment: he saw a ton of first-team reps in camp, Andrew Luck always choose to work with him in individual drills, and tonight he got the start and saw extensive time with the first-team (minus Luck). His performance wasn’t good - he rushed eight times for three yards - but then again he didn’t have a ton to work with either. He needs to step up his play in order to keep the role, but I have no problem with calling Josh Ferguson the team’s number two running back right now - because everything we’ve seen points to that being the case.
- Stephen Morris impresses. Scott Tolzien got the start tonight and had a very shaky beginning before a strong final two drives, finishing 12 of 23 for 140 yards and a touchdown. Stephen Morris, however, impressed in the second half, and it was even better when you consider that he got very few reps in training camp. Morris looked comfortable in the pocket and made the throws he needed to, including that very good one to Chester Rogers for a touchdown. He also displayed the ability to move around with his feet, whether that was moving around in the pocket or scrambling. Overall, Morris completed 5 of 9 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown and rushed three times for 19 yards.
- Special teamers impress once again. It should be no surprise, but Pat McAfee and Adam Vinatieri both had good games. Vinatieri made both of his field goal attempts and an extra point, while McAfee punted five times for an average of 58.6 yards per kick. He was phenomenal, and then in the second half Michael Palardy took over the punting and kickoff duties.
- Screen plays work. One of the best plays of the night for the Colts was on a screen play to Jordan Todman, who took it 48 yards for a touchdown on a nice catch and run. It was a perfect play call by Rob Chudzinski, as the Bills kept sending pressure, and it also was a very nice play by the running back. That play worked to perfection, including linemen getting off the ball and getting downfield to block. That was nice, and a little later in the game a screen pass to Robert Turbin also worked out well (though not to the same level of results).
- Running game struggles mightily. The Colts really, really struggled to run the football tonight. There are several reasons for that, such as poor offensive line play, good defense, and sticking with a run play when they might not have in a regular season game, but it wasn’t a good game whatsoever for the running game. The Colts ran the ball 23 times for 30 yards tonight (1.3 yards per rush), but their running backs carried the ball 19 times for just ten yards (0.5 yards per carry). Yeah, that’s bad.
- Offensive line notes. The offensive line today wasn’t great and there was considerable pressure from the right side in particular, but keep in mind that Rex Ryan was sending some blitzes and manufacturing pressure that way as well. Honestly, the biggest thing the linemen need - particularly Ryan Kelly and Denzelle Good - is reps, and they could use as much as the Colts give them. The two of them saw the most playing time of any starting lineman, as they stayed in there even after moves began to be made. That initial set of moves included inserting Joe Haeg at left tackle, Le’Raven Clark at right tackle, and Jonotthan Harrison at left guard. Haeg played multiple spots along the line tonight, once again showing his versatility. Eventually, Harrison moved to center, and then interestingly Austin Blythe entered the game to play at left guard - something we didn’t see much of in camp. Blythe ultimately moved to center later in the game.
- Robert Turbin, fullback? An interesting tidbit of the offense early on was that they put Robert Turbin in at fullback on a 3rd and 1, playing in the backfield with Josh Ferguson. The Colts gave it to Turbin and he got the first down, telling us two things: 1) the Colts actually can convert on third and short! and 2) we could see Turbin in that role at times if the team needs a fullback.
- No Andrew Luck. The Colts said all week that they were going to play Andrew Luck, but they reversed course today and didn’t. Why? It likely was a combination of things: firstly, it’s simply a preseason game and they absolutely don’t need to play him. Secondly, the conditions weren’t great. If you watched the game you saw several players slipping on the wet field, and there’s no need for Luck to be out there on that kind of field. And thirdly, we saw Rex Ryan still being aggressive and sending blitzes, and considering how much Luck got hit in Buffalo last year, that might have factored in as well. It’s really no big deal: he’ll make his debut next week at Lucas Oil Stadium.
- Keep an eye on Darius White. The Colts were down several defensive backs tonight, which meant that Darius White saw quite a bit of playing time. He had good coverage tonight, and it was interesting listening to Rick Venturi announce the game and talk about White. Venturi said that the Colts are “very high” on White and that defensive coordinator Ted Monachino told the announcing crew yesterday to keep an eye on him.
- Injury situations. Denzelle Good (knee), Sio Moore (hamstring), Kevin Graf (ankle/foot), and Ricky Lumpkin (hand) all suffered injuries tonight, though in preseason it’s hard to tell the severity of it during the game.
- Thank you, Rex Ryan. Rex went for two at the end of the game even though an extra point would have tied it. He prevented overtime in the preseason. Thank you, Rex. Thank you.