clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Colts vs Steelers Preseason Week 3: 5 Questions We Need Answered

New, comments
NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With the Indianapolis Colts’ most significant game of the preseason coming on Saturday against the Pittsburgh Steelers, here are several important things that need to be figured out before we enter the regular season.

Can the Offensive Line Put Together a Solid Performance?

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

If you were asking this question given the past two performances, the answer would almost certainly be “no.” But things have changed this past week a little bit. Veteran offensive lineman Brian Schwenke has been removed from the PUP list and is able to practice, and everyone short of Kelly seems to be in reasonably good health.

Schwenke’s return should almost immediately mean he will challenge Deyshawn Bond for the starting spot at center. If the line can find some cohesion and get some decent rushing lanes and pass protection, it will go a long way to telling us how well this offense can function. Pittsburgh is not a leviathan defense, but they will certainly be a tough match for the Colts and should give a reasonable test for this struggling offensive line.

Additionally, they have got to eliminate the stupid penalties. If we don’t see serious improvement from them regardless of who is playing, the Colts may be in for a long season.

Who is Going to Be Playing Quarterback?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Indianapolis Colts Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

At this point, it is nearly a foregone conclusion that Andrew Luck will not start the season. Even if he were to come off of the PUP list today, it is likely he would need at least a week or two of practices to get a rhythm back with his receivers and continue to build up arm strength. In what would be an almost very best-case scenario, Luck could probably be back for week two, even if he likely would not play well for a couple weeks beyond that.

When Peyton Manning had his knee surgery before the 2008 season he missed all of training camp and was ready to play come the regular season, but struggled early and did not look like himself. He rebounded fine and ended the year as the MVP, but even one of the greatest of all time was not able to simply come out hot after missing time.

That is what makes it so frustrating to watch backup Scott Tolzien consistently placed at the top of the depth chart this offseason. If you wanted to say something nice about Tolzien you could say he takes care of the ball and won’t make mistakes. While that might be true, he is literally only able to protect the ball enough to allow the punter to give it back to the opposing team.

The offense under Tolzien has been in complete gridlock.

Stephen Morris has come in and looked leaps and bounds better on the field. His passing has seemed effortless, and when compared with Tolzien, Morris has looked like a legitimate NFL backup at the quarterback position. He is unafraid to take shots downfield and seems to have an easier time working through his progressions.

This is an area that Tolzien has struggled, often quickly dumping off to Jack Doyle or his running back rather than going toward receivers downfield. Seeing Morris get time earlier and longer will be important, and if he continues to play so much better than Tolzien, it will be difficult for the coaching staff to continue to justify keeping him on the back burner.

Is Marlon Mack the Real Deal?

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Every Colts fan was thinking this question as they watched the game against the Cowboys. With each progressive touch he had, the part of us that has been taught that we are not allowed to have good running backs in Indianapolis grappled for control of our emotions with the part that desperately wants to be excited about a realistic run threat.

Mack just looks different than what we have seen around here. His direction change is smooth and fluid, his stops and starts were so quick it made my ankles hurt. He broke tackles and fell forward for extra yards. He even cut blocked a rusher and bought the QB time to get the ball out.

Short of breaking off a massive run for a touchdown, Mack did absolutely everything you could ask of him in his first appearance as a Colt. What we all want to see, is for him to do it again. This time against better competition. He looked like he was playing against high schoolers while on the field with the third team.

We need to see him against the ones and running behind our first team offensive line. If he can have a similar performance, it will be time to start getting really excited about what our offense can look like, because having a big time running back is a game-changer.

Can This Defense Step Up Their Game?

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are perhaps the most potent offense in the NFL with Antonio Brown, Le’veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, and Ben Roethlisberger. While Bell and Bryant may not be involved in the action, Brown has generally had his way with the Colts, and Big Ben has thrown virtually at will in most of their recent matchups. This will be a major test of the Colts defense.

Tackling has been poor thus far on defense. Bad technique and bad angles have resulted in lots of yards after the catch. Playing soft coverage has allowed two good quarterbacks to take advantage of that weakness and throw short to get big gains. The Steelers might be better at this than both the previous teams the Colts have faced. Poor tackling will be punished severely in this game.

The pass rush needs to be a factor in this game as well. So far it has been dead on arrival, with both Matt Stafford and Dak Prescott as well as their backups sitting completely untouched in the backfield without any real threat of a regular rush. That simply cannot continue if the Colts want to win football games against good teams, and this is their chance to show they can be better. They need to step up.

Can the Colts Continue Winning the Turnover Battle?

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

So far this offseason we have seen the Colts work effectively to create turnovers. That has been a major focus of GM Chris Ballard, and one that will pay dividends if they can keep it up. It would be easy to say that John Simon has found himself at the right place at the right time two weeks running now.

He helped create an interception in week one with a batted ball and helped cause a fumble in week two. There is always an element of luck to turnovers, but it is definitely true that teams who make it a priority to create turnovers can appear to find themselves in the right place at the right time often.

Given the quality of defense that is likely throughout this season due to their general lack of experience, this trend will need to continue. Thus far the Colts have done a pretty good job taking care of the ball, but we need to see their aggressiveness in creating and capitalizing on turnovers stay consistent.

Those turnovers kept an otherwise lopsided game against the Cowboys within striking distance, and as Colts fans know, if you keep Andrew Luck that close you just might get a win.