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Analyzing the Colts’ 2017 preseason schedule

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, the preseason schedule for the Indianapolis Colts and the other 31 NFL teams was announced.

While it’s not super exciting to talk about preseason schedules, the Colts actually have a four-game slate that could be interesting and should provide as good of a test as there can be in the preseason. Let’s take a brief look at each of those games and see what intriguing storyline(s) figure to arise... and yes, I know: analyzing preseason schedules is a bit much, but hey, it’s the offseason.

Week 1: vs. Detroit Lions

The most significant part of this game will be the fact that it’s the first chance Colts fans will have to see the team’s revamped roster. They’ve signed ten free agents so far, will add seven draft picks, and then will re-sign undrafted free agents to add to the mix too. Notable players like Jabaal Sheard and John Simon figure to make their Colts debuts in this game, and it will come at home in front of Colts fans. And that’s not to mention that it will be a return to Indianapolis once again for Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, a longtime Colts assistant who spent three seasons as their head coach. Perhaps the biggest question mark about this game is whether Andrew Luck will make his season debut or not. He’s recovering from shoulder surgery and we don’t really have a timeline for when exactly he’ll be back, so it’s possible that he won’t be ready for this opener (or that the Colts will just play it safe). If that’s the case, however, the home crowd likely won’t get to see Luck play until the regular season rolls around, since the other preseason game at Lucas Oil Stadium will be the fourth game.

Week 2: at Dallas Cowboys

In week two of the preseason the starters normally play a bit longer than they do in the first game, perhaps getting a couple of drives. And what better way to do that than in JerryWorld against the Cowboys, who are likely to be a hot Super Bowl pick this year? Though we’ll likely only get to see a couple of drives from the starters, those will be quite interesting, especially for the linebackers. The position has been a big area of emphasis this offseason and figures to be addressed in the draft too. It’s possible that the Colts will add one or two pass rushers in the draft, plus perhaps an inside linebacker, to a group that includes other newcomers Jabaal Sheard, John Simon, Barkevious Mingo, and Sean Spence. In the second preseason game, those guys will get the chance to go up against the best offensive line in football and against the leading rusher from a season ago in Ezekiel Elliott. Though it will only be a brief glimpse, we’ll get to see a true test for those linebackers at trying to stop the run and get after the quarterback against a tremendous offensive line.

Week 3: at Pittsburgh Steelers

The third preseason game is the one that generates the most attention because it’s almost always the one in which the starters play the most, normally the entire first half and sometimes into the third quarter. In this third preseason game, like in the second one, the Colts will get a tough test in the Steelers, particularly on the defensive side of the football. The Colts’ cornerback position is also one that will need some work this offseason, and we will likely see the Colts take a corner pretty high in this year’s draft. That secondary will be really tested against the Steelers’ high-powered offense, particularly from Antonio Brown, who has absolutely torched the Colts in their matchups against him. Similarly, the Colts haven’t been able to get to Ben Roethlisberger much at all in recent years, so will the pass rush show any glimpses of being better? This will be a big test for the defense once again, even though it will only be about half of the game. It should also be noted that the Colts and Steelers will meet in the regular season this year, so the two teams might be a bit more hesitant to open up the playbook in this game than they already would have been.

Week 4: vs. Cincinnati Bengals

The fourth preseason game is normally a laugher and normally not as exciting, because most of the starters don’t play. Instead, it’s all about the backups. The game actually has intrigue in that regard every year, as players are competing for depth spots and those final spots not only on the 53-man roster but on the practice squad too. It’s the last chance for them to make a good impression before the final cut day. For this year’s Colts team, however, we could see more spots up for grabs than normal. Chris Ballard has placed a huge emphasis on competition, and that’s really what this fourth preseason game is about: guys competing for roster spots. Ballard has been trying to build the competition from 1-90 on the roster, so this preseason game could have particular value to him and the coaching staff as they seek to determine the best players possible for the team’s 53-man roster and 10-man practice squad.