On a day that wasn't nearly as fun as the last time the Colts wore white at home, the Colts lost their preseason opener to the Buffalo Bills. 44-20.
Remember, it's not the final score that matters. A blowout looks bad, but remember the Colts put their third team into the game in the second quarter, when the Bills still had their first team in the game. The Bills' two-minute drive that ended in a touchdown at the end of the half? Yeah, that was E.J. Manuel and the Bills' starters against fringe roster players and camp bodies.
So, while 44-20 looks bad, it's meaning is far less than it appears on the surface. The Colts got long, extended looks at the players competing for jobs (Well, not all of them. More on that later), not using the preseason to give anything away to opponents about their first team offense or defense.
However, there were certain things that came out of the game worth noting. These will stick out more when we dig into film, but for now, here were my quick observations from a live viewing.
- T.Y. Hilton. He's going to be really good. That much should be clear. Hilton had a gorgeous diving-catch for a 45-yard touchdown as he beat the cornerback down the left sideline. The rainbow throw from Hasselbeck was a touch long, but Hilton got horizontal and made the grab, sliding into the endzone for the touchdown. Hilton finished with three catches for 61 yards and added an electric 15-yard punt return as well. I don't care who technically "starts," but if DHB gets significantly more snaps than Hilton in 2013, Pep Hamilton's doing it wrong.
- Pat McAfee. The Boomstick was in midseason form on Sunday, impressing with several coffin-corner punts that pinned the Bills inside their own 10. McAfee added another 57-yard kick that placed the Bills inside the 20 as well. While the punt coverage team struggled at times, McAfee looks like he's ready to pick up where he left off last season.
- Delano Howell. With LaRon Landry, Joe Lefeged and Sergio Brown all sitting this one out with injuries, Howell played for the majority of the game at safety. He turned in a solid game, tackling well and showing decent range across the field. He may be able to beat out Brown for what should be the fourth and final safety spot.
- Offensive Line. The first-team had a few good plays to start the game, notably some strong run blocking from Anthony Castonzo and Donald Thomas and Luck having a clean pocket on a few early throws. Of course, it helps when you only have a three-step drop. But things quickly unraveled, and the interior line in particularly began to allow the Bills defensive line and linebacker to penetrate with ease. The line was the biggest problem last season, and looks like it will continue to concern in 2013.
- Pass rush. On the other side of the ball, the defense couldn't get any pressure on the Bills' quarterback throughout the game. Caesar Rayford managed to pick up a sack and strip (which Daxton Swanson returned for a touchdown) in the second half, but outside of that play, the Colts failed to even hurry either E.J. Manuel or Jeff Tuel.
- Chandler Harnish. Some have thought that the second-year pro outplayed Matt Hasselbeck in training camp, although I didn't see that at all when I visited practice. Harnish wasn't helped by the offensive line, but he was off-target and made poor decisions with the ball all afternoon.
- Sheldon Price– The Bills just abused him mercilessly in the second half. I liked Price as a UDFA prospect, but he's too stiff to be an answer at corner.
- Special teams. The kickoff coverage team was especially embarrassing, allowing rookie Marquise Goodwin a 53- and 107-yard kick return for a touchdown. Meanwhile the Colts' own kick return team was awful, averaging under 17 yards per return. Part of the reason why coverage was so bad could be the injuries to Lefeged and Brown, who were two of the team's best tacklers last season, but that level of ineptitude is simply inexcuseable.
One other note: the Colts' second-team offensive line played almost the entire game, and third-string left tackle Ben Ijalana didn't get into the game until there was about three minutes left, which disappointed me. Joe Reitz played left tackle for probably 5x as many snaps, which shocked me. I'd hoped Ijalana could play his way into a roster spot, but that won't happen if he's not given an opportunity to play in the second half of a blowout preseason game.
I'll be doing some individual player tape this week, and am open to suggestions on who to focus on. Let me know in the comments at whom you'd like to take a closer look.