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Upon Further Review: Colts vs. Bills

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NFL: Preseason-Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

A new article series that I’ll be doing this year is “upon further review,” which will be similar to my post-game notes recap but will be done after taking a look at the film and being a day or two removed from the game. The idea behind this article is to try to get a better idea of how the game went.

During the preseason, this will often be a chance to catch up on some things I might have missed in the post-game recap, and I think for the week one win against the Bills (which the Colts won 19-18) we didn’t talk as much about the starters. The depth guys did a good job, but the starters didn’t play as well. With all of these notes, it’s important to not overreact to a preseason game, but just take them for what they are: some of my observations from watching the film from Saturday’s game.

  • Ryan Kelly solid in debut. The Colts’ first round center did a very good job in his first ever NFL game and didn’t really have any “negative plays.” The best way to describe him is solid, and that’s exactly why the Colts drafted him: to be a solid force in the middle of the offensive line, and he was exactly that on Saturday.
  • Biggest weakness in pass protection? Surprisingly, the most pressure seemed to actually come from the offensive tackles rather than the interior of the line. On the fourth play of the game, Anthony Castonzo was beat inside and his man pressured and hit Scott Tolzien, forcing an incomplete pass. On the very next play, Joe Reitz was beat inside and Jack Doyle couldn’t make up for that, resulting in a run for no gain for Josh Ferguson. It was plays like that from the tackles that were bigger errors than the plays from the guards or center, which was surprising to me.
  • Great teaching moment. On the second drive of the game, Rex Ryan sent a double A-gap blitz that wound up getting to Tolzien as Denzelle Good and Josh Ferguson tried to handle the blitzers. They didn’t do a great job, but here’s the thing: that’s why those guys are playing these snaps during the preseason. While the talk surrounding Rex Ryan and his blitzes has been regarding the Colts’ decision to not play Andrew Luck, I think it’s a great opportunity for some of the younger guys. The coaches can take that play with the blitz, for example, and teach Good and Ferguson on what to do when they see it again.
  • Josh Ferguson better than numbers indicate. Ferguson had terrible numbers from the game - eight rushes for three yards - but he wasn’t as bad as they indicate. He did a good job running from what the line opened up for him, and while he wasn’t the dynamic guy who can make something out of nothing, I don’t think it was his fault for the numbers. The pass protection needs to get better from Ferguson, for sure, but even then he did a better job later in the first half than he did at the beginning - so hopefully that’s something he can keep building on.
  • Scott Tolzien really struggled. We pointed this out before, but Tolzien really didn’t have a very good game. Most of his completions and yards came on easy passes - which still count, to be sure - but he misfired on a number of throws. His worst overthrow, in my opinion, was when he had a clean pocket yet still underthrew a wide open Phillip Dorsett midway through the first quarter. Without a doubt, Tolzien needs to improve.
  • Tevaun Smith has room - and reps - to improve. Smith, the undrafted free agent out of Iowa, has been getting plenty of reps, indicating that the Colts really like him. It’s clear that there’s talent there, but based on Saturday night’s game he still has plenty of room to improve, such as in route running and in making the catches (he had a drop early in the second quarter). The good news for him is that he’ll get the reps to work on those things.
  • Offensive formation. During the time the starters were in (from the first snap until the final starter was removed), the Colts ran more plays with multiple tight ends/fullbacks (eight) than they did with three or more wide receivers (seven). In fact, on their first drive, they only used three wide receivers once: on 3rd and 10. That means that T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief, and Phillip Dorsett were only on the field together one time. I know that it’s a small sample size because Hilton only played six snaps in total, but based on what we saw in camp that number should be much, much higher - and I think it needs to be higher. There’s still plenty of time to see what the Colts’ plan is offensively, but the first game confused me.
  • Patrick Robinson, Darius Butler burned badly. Two defensive backs who could play a significant role in the defense this year both got beat badly early on in the game. Patrick Robinson got beat down the right sideline, though he was saved by Mike Adams coming over the top and, primarily, by an overthrow from Tyrod Taylor. Darius Butler wasn’t so lucky, as he was burned by Chris Gragg for a touchdown. Let’s not overreact to a very small sample size, but it wasn’t the best start for either of them.
  • Nice start for T.J. Green. There have been a lot of people asking about the Colts’ second round pick, who got the start at safety on Saturday night. Simply put, I thought it was a very nice NFL debut for T.J. Green. I think there may be some overstating just how good he was going on in the Indianapolis media post-game, but that’s not to say he wasn’t good. Basically, Green did enough to inspire confidence that he can fill in capably if he needs to start week one. I think that’s all anyone could have expected from him in his first preseason game, and I think now more than anything he just needs reps to continue to adapt to the NFL level.
  • Some young defenders impress. I think perhaps the most impressive player on the field defensively (and maybe period) for the Colts on Saturday was T.Y. McGill, who also was one of the biggest standouts in training camp. McGill did a very nice job along the defensive line despite seeing plenty of reps, and he was consistently making plays. Zach Kerr also did a good job up front, but I thought McGill was better. Two other players who I was impressed with were inside linebacker Edwin Jackson and corner Darius White. Jackson led the Colts in both defensive tackles and special teams tackles and showed a propensity for getting to the football and for being in a number of plays. White really caught my eye after having a relatively quiet camp, as he had some really nice coverage during some early playing time.
  • Pass rushers flash. From Trent Cole to Earl Okine to Ron Thompson to Trevor Bates to Curt Maggitt, I thought it was a pretty good game overall for the team’s outside linebackers. Defensive coordinator Ted Monachino recently explained the difference between effective pass rushers - guys who can get to the quarterback and pressure him - vs. productive pass rushers - guys who can finish those plays to get sacks. I think Saturday night showed us that there’s more promise than initially thought for the Colts to have some effective young rushers, whether that’s this year or down the road. The key, of course, will be whether those guys can take the next step to being productive and finishing those plays, like Okine did on one of them on Saturday.