The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 13-10 on Thursday in the preseason finale. What did we learn from the game? Here are three takeaways (and we're using the team "learn" loosely):
Stephen Morris did all he could to win backup quarterback job
There are some positions on a team that are completely locked up entering training camp, and we’re about to find out whether the backup quarterback job was one of them. Because here’s the reality: Stephen Morris did everything he could to win the backup quarterback position. He outplayed Scott Tolzien, showed dual-threat ability, and showed tremendous poise. He was once again very impressive on Thursday night against the Bengals, completing 20 of 30 passes for 217 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, also leading the team on a game-winning two-minute drive. In the preseason, he completed 39 of 61 passes for 531 yards, four touchdowns, and an interception while adding eight rushes for 50 yards and another score. Perhaps the most impressive part, however, was that Morris was always calm under “pressure” (which is said while acknowledging that pressure isn’t that much of a thing in the preseason). He led the Colts on two game-winning drives and fourth quarter comebacks this preseason, in another led them on a go-ahead scoring drive in the fourth quarter only to give the lead back on a two-point conversion, and then in the other led an offense that outscored the opponent 13-0 to close the game.
I’ve written about why I think the Colts should keep Morris as the backup, and Saturday night just continued to reinforce that belief. Yeah, he made a really bad decision to force an interception in the red zone, but one play shouldn’t overshadow what was a very strong game and a very strong preseason. It may not ultimately be that big of a deal who the backup quarterback is, but if there really was a competition then Stephen Morris clearly won it. So I guess we’ll find out whether there was a competition or whether Scott Tolzien was guaranteed the job all along on Saturday when the final cuts are made, but Morris certainly made his mark this preseason.
Linebackers make their case
One of the positions on the roster that still has some depth spots up in the air is at linebacker, both inside and outside. On Thursday night, several of the guys fighting for those spots made their case to be on the 53-man roster. Antonio Morrison continued an impressive preseason. Curt Maggitt had an impact on the edge. Trevor Bates had a good showing and continues to be a versatile option (especially on special teams). Earl Okine once again had some nice pass rushes (he finished the preseason tied for the team lead in sacks and quarterback hits). Even Ron Thompson, who has been the quietest of all the young linebackers, recovered a fumble. Those guys, along with Josh McNary and Edwin Jackson (who recorded five tackles on Thursday night, tied for the second-most on the team), will make roster cuts especially difficult on Saturday for Indianapolis. Do they keep Maggitt to keep working with him? Do they keep Okine because he’s been the best pass rusher so far? Do they keep Bates because of his versatility and special teams impact? Those are the type of questions that will need to be answered, and it likely will just be a matter of how many spots are available when accounting for injuries elsewhere. But several young linebackers certainly made their case on Thursday night.
T.Y. McGill caps off MVP performance in preseason
The MVP of preseason? If that was a thing, the Colts’ recipient would be T.Y. McGill. His stats - seven tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, three quarterback hits, and a pass defensed - don’t come close to telling the story behind McGill’s domination. He has been a disruptive force along the defensive line and has played a big role in the defense this preseason. He also was the most impressive player in training camp, so he’s had quite a nice stretch recently. He figures to have a big role in the defense when the regular season rolls around too, with injury concerns surrounding Kendall Langford and Henry Anderson. If they both miss week one, McGill will be starting, but regardless McGill will have a nice role in the rotation. After his preseason performance, he deserves it.