5 Things to Watch: Colts @ Bills (Preseason)

Last week was hit-or-miss for me.    Two of the things I really wanted to see,  the return of both Bob Sanders and Anthony Gonzalez,  never really came to fruition.    This is a new week,  however,  and the Colts are traveling to the exotic,  frozen land of Canada,  where wishes and dreams always come true.   With that,  here are Five Things I’ll be Watching tonight:

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1. Running in Place?

The Colts off-season has been defined by talk of bettering the running game.   Bill Polian said the inability to convert in short yardage was a contributing factor in the Colts’ Super Bowl loss.    Peyton Manning has stated on multiple occasions that he values the running game and wants the Colts’ offensive attack to be more balanced.

If the Colts first pre-season game against the 49ers was any indication,  the Colts have a long way to go to accomplish those goals.    Aside from a Joseph Addai touchdown run in the first quarter,  in which the running back had to slice through multiple defenders,  the running game looked as inept as ever,  with multiple runs ending in a loss of yards.

Compounding the situation is the fact that the Colts simply can’t get healthy on the offensive line.   While rookie OG/C Jacques McClendon is poised to play his first snaps in the pre-season tonight,  now-starting OG Kyle DeVan is set to miss an undetermined amount of time with a hamstring injury.    When the Colts first-string offense takes the field tonight,  they will be missing three projected starters on the offensive line.

The Bills are a bad team,  however,  and should provide the Colts a few openings.   If they can’t take advantage of this defense,  it may be time to break out the voodoo dolls and start the healing prayers for OT Charlie Johnson and C Jeff Saturday.

2. A Good Start for the Starters

Last week Peyton and his pals left the field with a 10-point lead.    A good result for a quarter of work against a team projected by many to win their division.    This week,  the Colts get a team projected by many to finish near the bottom of the entire league.    That,  combined with the expectation that the Colts starters will be playing much longer than last week,  should give the Colts ample opportunity to get their first win of the 2010 pre-season.

I expect the Colts starters to make the most of their opportunities.    One of the hallmarks of the Manning Era Colts is that they don’t play down to their competition.    Against a team with no starting quarterback,  two injured running backs,  and a defense that would make Ron Meeks embarrassed,  I expect a fast start from the offense and a dominating performance from the defense.

In the end,  I don’t expect the Colts to win the game,  as I believe the Painter/Brandstater Comedy Hour™ can overcome any lead in a matter of minutes,  but I do expect them to be ahead when the starters don their ball caps.

3. Feelin’ Fili

Last year was a rough start for a rookie that had many Colts fans excited.    Fili Moala never saw the playing time many of us expected and never had the immediate impact that all of us had hoped he would.   This is a new year,  though,  and Moala looks bigger,  stronger,  and more comfortable as a football player.

Moala had an up-and-down game against the 49ers,  but he showed flashed of ability that we never saw last year.   Can he continue to show progress this week against a team that doesn’t have dominating offensive players?    I think he can,  and I’m excited by the prospect of having a tackle that can get some push on passing plays.

4. The Kids are Alright

I’ve preached patience recently with rookies,  tempering my expectations for first-year players on a team that was able to draft depth over reaching for need.    So I was pleasantly surprised by the play of several of the rookies on Sunday,  most notably LB Kavell Conner,  LB Pat Angerer,  and TE Brody Eldridge.

Everyone has been excited by Eldrige,  the blocking tight end taken by the Colts in the 5th round of this years draft,  and he didn’t disappoint,  showing the ability to not only block,  but also catch the ball.   He got a lot of time with both Manning and back-up quarterback Curtis Painter,  and showed that he is quickly acclimating himself to the Colts offense.    Fans will also appreciate the hustle that he showed while forcing a fumble after a Curtis Painter interception.

On the other side of the ball,  the quick development of Angerer and Conner could be just as vital.   While both players play a position of strength,  middle and weak-side linebacker,  respectively,  the depth at linebacker was a question mark entering the season.    If they can continue to play at a high level,  it will reduce the risk of disaster should the Colts lose one of their starting ‘backers.

5. What About Bob?

Last week I shared with you my desire to see Bob Sanders return to the field.   I was unaware,  however,  that Bill Polian had a personal grudge against me and had decided to have Coach Jim Caldwell sit the former Defensive Player of the Year.   This week,  however,  I sense I’ll get my wish.

I called the Colts facilities and informed them that I did not expect Bobzilla to play,  and that I was okay with that. Upon hearing the news,  Caldwell told reporters that he expected Sanders to see some time in this game.    Mission:   Accomplished.

I won’t rehash what I said last week,  so I’ll just say – I wasn’t looking forward to watching this game,  but if there’s one thing that can get me excited,  it’s a healthy Sanders going Warp 9 towards a running back.   Give ‘em hell,  Bob,  but stay healthy while you do it.

Questions?  Comments?  Suggestions?  My new perfume causing your eyes to itch?  E-mail me at:  greg@coltzilla.com