The Indianapolis Colts fell to 1-2 on the preseason after a 30-17 loss to the Redskins Saturday afternoon. It was the most hyped preseason game in recent memory, pitting the 1st- and 2nd-overall picks from the 2012 draft “against each other.” And while the Redskins announcers, whom the NFL Network so graciously dumped on us, would have you believe that the Redskins’ QB got the better of the match-up, the truth is, Andrew Luck once again showed the world why he was taken 1st overall.
Luck put up the kind of performance Colts fans have come to expect from him this preseason: he was calm under pressure, he used his athleticism when needed (which was far too often), he constantly kept his eyes down field, and he made good decisions with the football. Luck will likely see little, if any, playing time in the Colts preseason finale against the Bengals, but with the kind of performances he put up in the Colts’ first three preseason games – performances which erased any and all doubt regarding his ability to lead the Colts back to success – he’s earned the night off.
Unfortunately, while Luck – and the rest of the offensive “skilled” players – performed well, Saturday’s game served as a stark reminder that this Colts team is a long way from being truly competitive. Will they win some games here and there? Yes. And make no mistake about it, the Colts are far from the worst team in the NFL. That said, they will struggle, thanks in large part to two specific areas.
The first area is one we’ve harped on all preseason: the offensive line. Coming off of a performance against the Steelers in which they had as many ups as downs, the hope was that the OL was finally starting to gel, finally starting to perform with some consistency. Those hopes and dreams were dashed early and often on Saturday. The main offenders continue to be the right side of the line: RT Winston Justice, RG Seth Olsen, and the right side of C Samson Satele’s body were all putrid.
The Colts running backs found little room to run, and Andrew Luck was doing far too much running as he desperately tried to avoid the Redskins’ pass rush just long enough to find an open man down field. We previously wrote in this space that the only thing that would prevent the Colts offense from being one of the top-10 offenses is the NFL is the offensive line. Their play today only reinforced that notion. The most concerning thing has to be that, this late in the year, the Colts are unlikely to find any help along the OL.
The other area of concern for the Colts was the defense. While the starting defense had struggled at times against the Rams and the Steelers, they had also shown flashes of “average.” Very few people thought this unit would be great this year, but even average would have been a nice outcome for a defense filled with more cast-offs and spare parts than young, dynamic play makers. Against the Redskins, they couldn’t find average with a map, compass, and a flashlight. The defense, as a whole, looked tired and slow, and, at times, soft.
The run defense was especially bad, evoking memories of the historically bad 2006 Indianapolis Run Defense. As with the offensive line, there’s no immediate help walking through that door, so the Colts will have to make due with the roster they have, but expect the Colts to spend a significant amount of assets (both money and draft picks) on completely overhauling this unit in the 2013 off-season.
Quick Thoughts, the Good:
- TY Hilton made up for an inconsistent showing last week by delivering his best performance of the preseason. He made a nice adjustment and catch on a screen play that seemed destined for disaster, and his speed and hands showed up on his 31-yard touchdown grab. If Hilton can perform at this level consistently, he’ll likely be one of the Colts top-3 WRs heading into the season opener.
- Donald Brown had very little success running the ball today, but we can’t really punish him for the horrible play of the offensive line. Instead, we’ll point out that Brown was solid in pass protection today, a trend that has been developing since training camp. Brown’s indelible image to this point in his career is the “God dammit, Donald” play, but with how he’s been performing this preseason, in all facets of the game, he seems well on his way to creating some positive memories for Colts fans to remember.
- Donnie Avery finally saw some playing time, and while he wasn’t spectacular by any means, he did make a couple of nice plays. If Brazill and Hilton continue to perform at a high level, and if Austin Collie returns from his latest concussion, Avery may be in for a fight just to make the final roster, but it’s a problem the Colts should welcome. The offense is going to have a lot of talent on it this year, and a little competition never hurt anyone.
- WR Griff Whalen continues to impress. While the Colts have a relatively (compared to the rest of their roster) deep group of receivers, Whalen is going to make it hard for the Colts to cut him. One would think that, if nothing else, Whalen is a lock for the practice squad, but the Colts may have to worry about some other team signing him to their NFL roster at this point.
- Though it’s hard to break down offensive line play without film study and knowing the blocking schemes and assignments, I think it’s safe to say that LT Anthony Castonzo is settling into the role of blindside protector. Easily the best player on the Colts offensive line, Castonzo’s development leaves the Colts with one less hole to fill this off-season.
- Never something you want to praise, but Pat McAfee had a good day punting the ball. He delivered high, deep punts which allowed the special teams units to have decent coverage success.
- I have a feeling Andrew Luck will wind up in this space for most, if not every, game this year. While he was given no support from the running game, and the offensive line’s pass blocking made me wonder whether they were attempting to fulfill a mob contract, Luck was still able to remain calm in the pocket and find his receivers. His 31-yard touchdown pass to TY Hilton was a thing of beauty, and should be required watching material for anyone who doesn’t believe Luck will be an amazing NFL quarterback. The only area of concern, and this is hardly Luck’s fault, was that Luck was able to set his feet and step into his throws on very few of his 23 pass attempts today.
Quick Thoughts, the Bad:
- The Offensive line was putrid, erasing any and all good they showed in last week’s game. The run blocking was non-existent and the pass-blocking was as effective as a group of fashion mannequins. There has been a lot of talk about the Colts trying to pull off a major trade, hopefully the player Grigson is attempting to acquire is a good, young RT.
- Winston Justice is not a starting Right Tackle. Sure, the Colts gave up very little too acquire him, but the mere swap of picks, plus the salary they are forced to pay him, is too much. I’m not sure what Grigson, who saw Justice up close and personal when he was with the Eagles, was thinking when he traded for the RT, but it couldn’t have been anything rational.
- Seth Olsen is not a starting Right Guard. He may not be a backup Right Guard. There is a real possibility that Seth Olsen doesn’t belong on any of the 32 53-man rosters in the entire NFL. Seth Olsen is likely a nice person. I, too, am a nice person. Being nice is not grounds for being a starting Right Guard.
- Samson Satele is no Jeff Saturday. While clearly the best of the “Bottom Three”, Satele is inconsistent at best, and his lows are quite bad indeed. There is likely enough talent there to not be too concerned, but he’s going to have to improve greatly as the season goes along, or the Colts must find a new center next off-season.
- Bruce Arians play calling was a bit uninspired. Completely devoid of understanding how his offensive was performing, Arians nearly became an accomplice to the offensive line’s attempted murder of the Colts rookie QB.
- The Colts defense left a lot to be desired. They played lethargic and uninterested and were often beat by their Washington counterparts. Their play against the run was especially bad, as the Redskins repeatedly gashed them for big plays.
- S Tom Zbikowski continues to disappoint. While he was brought in due to his knowledge of the defense, and touted as an asset on run defense, Zbikowski has, at times, looked like the worst player on the starting defense. That’s saying a lot, as there appears to be a group of 6 players constantly attempting to “one-down” each other.
- I am one of DE/LB Dwight Freeney’s biggest fans. From the moment he was drafted until the final snap of the 2011 season, I believe that Dwight Freeney was the most important member of the Colts defense. But while it pains me to say this, the truth is, Freeney does not seem to be a good fit in the Colts current scheme. Yes, he showed up a lot on the TV, always near the line or in the Redskins’ backfield, but he was doing little more than providing eye candy for Colts fans. He consistently failed to set the edge against the run, and was lacking his usually tenacity when attempting to reach the Redskins’ quarterbacks. His 2012 salary makes it nearly impossible to trade him for anything significant, so the Colts will likely hold on to him and hope he nets them a 3rd-round compensatory pick for the 2013 draft, but this season is shaping up to be a sad ending for one of Indianapolis’ all-time greats.
Quick Thoughts, the Ugly:
- New front office regime, new coaches, new QBs same ******** injury luck. This week’s contestants on the INJURIES OF DOOM were CB Jerraud Powers – yes, THAT Jerraud Powers, the only person in the Colts secondary with a pulse, WR TY Htilon and DT Brandon McKinney. The Powers injury – which to this point has been reported as a sprained knee, severity unknown – is a killer. Powers is the Colts best cornerback, and one of the players they’ll be relying on if they hope to have even an average defensive year.
We hope the Hilton injury, which is being reported as one to his shoulder, isn’t serious. As we mentioned, Hilton appeared to turn a corner this week, hauling in 4 catches (on 5 targets) for 54 yards and a touchdown. While wide receiver is likely the deepest unit on the Colts roster, you hope that their young receivers can stay healthy, continue to progress, and build chemistry with Luck, so that the offense is as prepared as possible to be an explosive, dynamic offense in 2013.
McKinney, on the other hand, has yet to distinguish himself as anything more than “just another guy”, but the Colts can ill-afford any injuries to the defensive line, a unit that is already desperately thin.