Against Cleveland, the Colts offense looked sharp once again, and the defense was, for the most part, something we haven’t seen around the Circle City in quite a while: Dominant. The Colts held the Browns’ starters scoreless until a third quarter field goal against Indy’s second team defense.
The Browns starters had dominated their first two opponents, outscoring St. Louis and Detroit by a combined 37-13 in the first halves (the part before preseason games turn into, well, preseason games). The Colts starters outscored Cleveland’s first unit 17-3 before the backups helped them cruise to a 27-6 decision.
The team as a whole allowed a mere 270 total yards and just 13 first downs and held Cleveland’s running backs to 59 yards on 16 carries (3.7 YPC). While it should be noted that the Browns offense doesn’t look very strong yet – they only averaged 3 YPC on the ground in their two wins, the Colts kept from making them look like All Pros. In fact, they did exactly what a good defense should do against such an opponent and shut them down.
The Colts first team generated some nice pressure at times, with some good play from Erik Walden, Bjoern Werner, and Robert Mathis. CB Greg Toler forced and recovered a fumble, and the secondary played well overall.
One final defensive note, if you haven’t heard of Caesar Rayford yet, you must have watched a different game. This 27-year old rookie and former Utah Blaze star leads the team in sacks in the preseason and, barring the unforeseen, is now a virtual lock to make the final roster. He needs to work on his open field tackling and run stopping skills, but the guy creates absolute havoc for opposing quarterbacks, and he can use his size and length to help make up for being out of position at times.
On offense, Andrew Luck continues to shine, and that’s putting it lightly. He posted a 92.8 QB rating and went 16/25 (64%) for 164 yards, 2 touchdowns (one to FB Stanley Havili and one to T.Y. Hilton). He did throw an interception, when his pass came in a little hard and fast, or hot, as football people like to say, to Havili, and it deflected into the hands of a defender.
Reggie Wayne led all receivers with 7 catches for 79 yards, and Darrius Heyward-Bey, who continues to look like the real thing, chipped in 3 receptions for 33 yards and a 6-yard rush on an end around. Griff Whalen led the reserves with 4 catches for 57 yards and generally frustrated defenders – even in man to man coverage – drawing a pass interference penalty in the second half that set up Adam Vinatieri’s second field goal.
Oh, yes, and that running game. The Colts, who ran well against Cleveland in the regular season last year too, racked up 34 carries for 149 yards and 4.4 YPC.
Kerwynn Williams led all rushers with 9 carries for 37 yards, but unfortunately actually had 8 carries for 10 yards and another one for 27 (4 of his runs were for no gain or negative yardage). Vick Ballard had 33 yards on 10 carries, much of it against eight man fronts (there just aren’t many audibles going on in the preseason). And Donald Brown took advantage of the blocking of rookie guard Hugh Thornton and the improved play of center Samson Satele later in the first half to finish with 35 yards on just 5 carries.
Overall, the Colts did a nice job of running and stopping the run, two areas in which they’ve emphasized a need for improvement. (You may have heard Coach Pagano mention them a time or two…) That did help them to do well in the even more important areas of passing and stopping the pass.
Next week, against the Cincinnati Bengals, the starters likely will rest for most of the game. As the final round of roster cuts looms, expect to see a contest played almost entirely by backups and players trying one last time to make an impression on the coaches. For those gentlemen, the fourth week of the preseason will be their Super Bowl, and they will lay it all on the line to preserve their NFL dreams.
For now, we know that the Colts starters have the ability to put together one beauty of a half, and that should bode well for them beginning at 1:00 PM on September 8.