What is it about the preseason? That first game seems like it is a breath of fresh air after such a long absence of football. Now it seems as though time as slowed down and we are stuck waiting for the remainder of the preseason to pass and for the Colts to enter the regular season healthy and ready to do some damage.
However, the preseason games hold some meaning for the Colts as they attempt to flesh out the completed depth chart and get some of their players worked back into the fold who have missed time with injuries. With those thoughts in mind, let’s look at some things worth watching in this second preseason game.
The Edge Rushers
The pass rush in the first preseason game wasn’t great. The first team defense as a whole struggled a bit. However, Russell Wilson is sort of a magician at avoiding pressure, and there aren’t many quarterbacks in the NFL who can do what he can with his feet. Speaking of guys who can’t move like Russell Wilson, the Colts will be pitted against Joe Flacco.
Flacco is a much more traditional pocket passer, which means that he will provide a better look at how the Colts pass rush impacts passers who are more likely to stay put in the pocket. 8 of the Colts games will be against quarterbacks of this style, and you could throw in the Jets and Bills as two more, but their quarterback situations are still up in the air.
For most of the past few days of camp, the starting defensive ends have been Jabaal Sheard and Margus Hunt. Unless something changes drastically over the two days of joint practices with the Ravens, those two would be the guys I expect will start against the Ravens with the first team. John Simon and Ryan Delaire were both rotating in on first team reps as well. This line is far from set, and we know it will feature a lot of rotation of players.
Delaire is a guy to keep an eye on. He has been active in practices and if he can make that kind of impact in the games, it will mean yet another effective guy who can be added to the ranks. On the whole, this group is the one I am most interested to see. They need to grow and be effective, so we have got to see them start getting consistent pressure on the quarterback.
Jordan Wilkins and Nyheim Hines
If you haven’t detected it, I am driving the hype bus for Jordan Wilkins. I broke down his first game action earlier this week and I’ve been thoroughly excited to see him back in action. With injuries across the running back group, Wilkins will likely get a good bit of time with the first team and that will be a much better indicator of his potential.
Nyheim Hines had a rough start with his preseason debut and will be looking for a little redemption. Since muffing punts hadn’t been a part of what we saw from him in practice, I am willing to chalk a good bit of that up to jitters from his first NFL game. However, we will need to see some serious improvement in his play from week one.
The Colts have moved him all over the field and I expect that to continue in this matchup. Hopefully, he can show some flashes in the return game and have a mistake free outing, because the Colts would love to have him as a weapon, but cannot afford the mental errors.
Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith
This one is something that I think applies both to this game and to the joint practices at large. With the focus of the Colts under Frank Reich being an “obsession to finish,” Quenton Nelson has proven the best possible first round pick. The guy loves finishing plays. That also means that especially by the time the Colts kick off on Monday, the Ravens’ defensive line will be just about sick of dealing with a guy who desperately attempts to destroy them on every play.
Don’t misunderstand me and think I am calling a dirty player, but I’d be disappointed if Quenton Nelson isn’t at the center of a fight, or at least some pretty scrappy moments during his game time on Monday. Nelson looked solid in his first game, and it’ll be very interesting to see him improve with more experience.
As far as Braden Smith goes, I am intrigued to see him line up in this game and see when he plays and how much. The first team offensive line at tackle has still been up in the air with Castonzo still out, so there hasn’t been an opportunity to see who gets that spot. Smith had some reps with the first team this week, but won’t necessarily get them come game day.
Whether he can translate his relative success from week one of the preseason to a higher level of competition is something I’m very interested to see. If Smith gets time against the ones and is able to look as good as he did against lower level talent, the Colts will be very excited.
Andrew Luck vs the Ravens Defensive Backs
The Ravens’ pass defense was one of the best in the NFL last season. They led the league with 22 interceptions. They are an opportunistic and savvy defensive backs group and they’ll be a great test for Andrew Luck on his path to returning completely.
Luck’s first game was fine in terms of his production. He was 6 of 9 for 64 yards. However, he had a couple throws which were clearly forced in to T.Y. Hilton. It was clear that there were nerves involved, that he still hadn’t built the rapport with some receivers, and that the play calls kept things pretty safe. That was fine for his first game back, but now we want to see him take the next step.
It would be excellent to see Luck air out a deep pass against a solid defense and put it on the money where only the receiver can get it. Also, seeing him hit other receivers will show he is beginning to develop some chemistry, which he definitely will need heading into games that matter.
We don’t know how much Luck will play, and if the first game was any indication, he’ll be handing the ball off about half of his snaps anyway. However, seeing him successfully challenge such a solid pass defense will be a big step toward feeling comfortable about the player he can be this season.