If the Indianapolis Colts’ NFL preseason road opener versus Buffalo at Orchard Park, N.Y., on Thursday night reminded fans of anything, it’s that these exhibitions can be a bit boring to watch.
The 24-16 loss to the Bills lacked punch, as well as several key starters who sat this one out. But it’s preseason, or at least that’s the typical refrain.
Keeping that in mind, past summations usually accentuate the positives because these games don’t count in the standings and are a small sample size of what could happen come September. But perspective should be balanced and fair, so when certain parts of this game kind of stunk, that’s part of the observational analysis.
Here’s what stood out from watching the first game action of the 2019 Colts and then, at the risk of falling asleep in the middle of the night, watching it again on the DVR.
How about some vanilla with that offense?
A time-honored tradition in preseason is that teams often don’t want to show too much in game plans. So we see a lot of vanilla. Just basic plays on both sides of the ball. Not too much aggression on offense or blitzing on defense. The theory is that coaches don’t want to give future opponents much to scheme for when they break down the tape.
That said, the Colts’ offense was stagnant for most of the night because it was too basic. Simple run plays usually went nowhere because quarterback Andrew Luck wasn’t playing quarterback to keep the Bills honest with that potent passing game. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, center Ryan Kelly and offensive tackle Anthony Castonzo also didn’t play.
So backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett didn’t look like the player second-year head coach Frank Reich has been bragging about as a “top-20” player during training camp. He looked like a backup.
Again, it wasn’t all his fault. When put in disadvantageous down-and-distance situations repeatedly because of that sputtering run game, the Colts became rather predictable and more easy to defend. Hence, the Bills led 14-3 by halftime and we kind of knew the way this one was headed.
Subtract reserve quarterback Chad Kelly’s 33-yard TD run in the fourth quarter and the Colts rushed 26 times for 72 yards, just 2.7 yards per carry. Brissett completed just two of five passes for 21 yards and his backup, Phillip Walker, completed just 8 of 18 throws for 85 yards with one interception.
Perhaps we’ll see a bit more strategy and creative playcalling when the Cleveland Browns visit Lucas Oil Stadium next Saturday. But then again, perhaps not.
Who looked good on the stat sheet?
Third-year defensive end Carroll Phillips had two sacks and one fumble recovery for a defense missing NFL leading tackler Darius Leonard at linebacker. As much as he deserves credit for making plays, the reality is he was unblocked on both sacks in what had to be blown offensive assignments. Still, for a reserve looking to earn a roster spot, he didn’t miss when he had those opportunities. It would have been easy to cheat too much and over-run those plays. His fumble recovery came on a botched snap that the Bills quarterback tried to scoop and run with but missed. Phillips got down to the ground to make sure of the turnover.
Second-year wide receiver Daurice Fountain had a team-high five receptions for 63 yards, 12.6 yards per catch with a long of 26 yards. Reserve running back Jonathan Williams also had five catches for 33 yards.
A fifth-round draft pick last year, Fountain was supposed to be a rookie pushing for playing time. But he didn’t see the field. We wondered why. He didn’t catch a pass in his one regular-season game. He dressed for both playoff games, but again, didn’t make a catch. Some might have a difficult time forgetting his drop of a touchdown pass late in the AFC Divisional Playoff loss at Kansas City.
The Colts are deeper at wide receiver this year, which means Fountain will have a difficult time getting snaps. He at least showed something this night and has something to build on for his next three preseason games.
Rookie linebacker E.J. Speed had a team-high six tackles, including five solos. The fifth-round pick played fast and physical, although he was flagged for an unnecessary helmet-to-helmet hit on a ballcarrier who was going down. Young players get too excited when trying to make impact plays. No doubt he’ll hear about that penalty and hopefully learn from it. That said, he had a good pro debut, which is important for a guy who must earn a roster spot as a reserve. The Bills appeared to break a big run early in the second quarter, but Speed sped in to make a sure tackle for a short gain.
Anything else worth mentioning?
— Both of Brissett’s completions went to new wide receiver Devin Funchess for 21 yards, including a 15-yard pass play that constituted the first-team offense’s only first down in three series. Good to see Funchess get the early touches on a pair of crossing routes. If Brissett would have hit him in stride on the second, Funchess would have gained another first down but the ball was behind him.
— Walker threw a bad interception into two defenders with the Colts trailing 7-0 inside of two minutes before halftime. That gave the Bills a short 20-yard field that they quickly converted into a second TD.
— Defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad reminded why it’s important to have solid players throughout the line rotation. Some might overlook him, but he had three solo tackles including one sack.
— Wide receiver Marcus Johnson had a couple of solid catches for 27 yards, including a nifty 15-yard gain where he had to stretch for the pass while also getting both feet inbounds near the sideline. That set up a Colts field goal on the final play of the first half.
— Rookie safety Khari Willis got flagged for illegal contact on his initial play, but was productive after that with four tackles. The Bills might have scored a first-quarter touchdown were it not for Willis forcing a drop with a tough hit on a pass over the middle.
— Second-round pick Rock Ya-Sin was a bit shaky at cornerback. He gave up too much room on at least a couple of completed passes. That said, it looked like the Colts played a lot of soft zone, and that takes some time to learn the nuances in that coverage. He was clearly beaten on an inside slant for what could have been a score on the play that Willis broke up. But in a couple of man-to-man situations, he was also solid with tight coverage that led to incompletions.
— Defenders got lost in that soft zone on the Bills’ first touchdown pass. Cornerback Nate Hairston was the closet defender to the wide-open receiver, but he wasn’t that close.
— Right tackle Braden Smith was also shaky, allowing too much pressure outside.
— The Colts had seven quarterback hits with six different players contributing. That might not sound like much, but it’s a decent number for playing basic defensive schemes.
— Second-year wide receiver Deon Cain had two catches for 15 yards. There was also a bad drop on a second-quarter pass, but it was good to see him get some work after he spent almost his entire rookie year rehabbing a torn ACL suffered in the preseason opener. Fans might remember the sixth-round pick raised eyebrows early in camp before getting hurt. These knee injury surgeries typically take two years for a player to trust what’s been fixed, so this was encouraging.
— Punter Rigoberto Sanchez was in midseason form, averaging 45.7 yards on six punts with a net of 41.8 yards, one punt downed inside the 20 and a long of 51 yards. He’s ready for September now.