On Saturday Night the Colts were able to get off to a fast start which eventually led them to a win against the Pittsburgh Steelers with a final score of 19-15. There were some impressive things coming out of the game, some players who continue to make a major impact. However, like any game, there are still some things the Colts need to continue to improve upon if they want to field a competitive football team this season, especially as Andrew Luck’s status remains uncertain. Unlike Chuck Pagano, there will be no rainbows and unicorns and smoke being blown up the Colts butts here (It’s not an important win), because the tape never lies.
First, lets start out with the positives from Saturday’s game.
Special Teams Coverage Unit:
The Special Teams has gone through some massive overhauls this offseason, with the retirement of Pat McAfee, cutting longsnapper Matt Overton, and working out multiple punters. However, something that often gets overlooked is the importance of the coverage unit on Special Teams. Looking back, the Colts coverage unit was outstanding from the first opportunity. As the night continued, they continued to stifle the Steelers returners, never allowing more than 21 yards on a kick return, and 10 on a punt. Credit the Colts new punter Rigoberto Sanchez, who averaged better than 51 yards per punt, kicking them sky high allowing the unit to get there and cover. So for a unit that often gets overlooked during the course of a game, the Indianapolis Colts special teams coverage unit stood out to me. Without Andrew Luck, field position will become even more critical,and if unit can continue their great play, it will be a major boost for the defense that may have to carry the team early in the season.
Early on, I thought the offensive line whipped up on the Pittsburgh front 7. Tolzien had clean pockets, and the line opened up massive holes for running backs to burst through. Frank Gore himself averaged 4.6 yards per carry and a touchdown. In terms of pressure on Tolzien and Morris, there wasn’t a whole lot of it that wasn’t self inflicted. As a team, there was only 1 sack given up throughout the entire game. Pittsburgh was coming off of a 4 sack game vs Atlanta, and a 3 sack game vs. the Giants. I was quite happy with the entire offensive line as a unit, and was quite impressed throughout the game.
Phillip Dorsett and Donte Moncrief
If the Colts are to be without the services of #12 for an extended period of time, the unit that has to step up the most is the wide receiver group. It was evident that they took that to heart on Saturday night, and it was refreshing to see Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett make multiple plays to either extend drive or set up the offense in great position to score. Both players have very important seasons coming up, Dorsett in a prove it year and Moncrief in a contract season, and both delievered on Saturday night in Pittsburgh. Both showed a physical approach to recieving and the ability to go and get a 50/50 ball for Scott Tolzien. Getting T.Y. Hilton back during the regular season (sat out with a minor injury) will only bolster what looks to be a really strong group of receivers.
The race for the backup spot, or starting spot until Luck returns, continues to get perhaps even cloudier than before. Both quarterbacks played really well Saturday against the Steelers, and both look to be capable of taking the job. Stephen Morris continued his strong play and has now led the Colts to a touchdown drive in each game he’s played in this preseason. Scott Tolzien had easily his best game of the preseason, aside from one interception, and it all started from the get go with him showing that he has the ability to push the football down the field. My biggest knock on Tolzien all along was that he consistently dumped the ball off, taking the safest options each play, which meant a defense never had to respect him or the wide receivers on the outside. Saturday night, Tolzien was throwing deep outs, go routes, and posts, which seemed to catch the Steelers off guard. Stephen Morris still has the better arm, and to me, makes throws that Tolzien cannot. He has a touch to his throws that literally resembles some of the best qb’s in the league. His decision making is still lacking, and he is still very raw and unproven. Regardless of what we think of the qb’s, all Colts feels must feel better now after seeing the performance on Saturday night.
On multiple occasions Saturday, Steelers recievers and backs were able to make the first man miss, to gain additional yardage. These types of missed tackles can kill a defense, and literally can cost a team the game. It happened on third down, which extends drives and can lead to more points. Mathias Farley had a really good game, but what stood out to me the most was that he continues to absolutely whiff on receivers in the open field. Luckily for the Colts, it didn’t cost them the game, but it will if it continues to happen.
Edge Setting by the defense
John Simon can do it, however I’m not sure who will on the other side from him. In run defense, perhaps the most important aspect aside from shooting gaps is setting the edge so that the runner cannot get outside of where you want him to go. Time after time on Saturday after the starters went out, we saw the edge defender crashing into the line, leaving the outside open for a runner to get loose and pick up additional yardage. I pointed out on twitter one play in particular where Mingo crashed so hard inside that the offensive line didn’t even have to block him, allowing the runner to go free to the weak side and gain 12 yards. This has been going on for years here in Indy, and its all about a mindset of what is best for the team defense. Simon has the right mindset, but I’m not sure who else will.
Marlon Mack’s vision
I might take some heat for this, but Marlon Mack needs to play a lot on Thursday because I feel he doesn’t have a feel for running schemes in terms of what is opening up on the offensive line. It may simply be that he is trying to do too much, and rather than taking that 2 yard gain he tries to bounce it outside and actually loses 2. It may be that he needs Frank Gore to drag him to the side and tell him to simply hit the hole and good things will happen. I think this comes with experience, learning when to take the chances on bouncing a run outside, and when to take what is given to you. He’s a young running back who has big play ability,but he won’t get as many carries as I’d like to see him have if he continues to take negative carries. So Marlon, learn from the old man on the roster. It’s much better to get 2 yards on a sniffed out run play than to lose 3 or 4 by bouncing out to nothing.
From an Individual Standpoint
I though T.J. Green continued to play very well on Saturday. Sometimes when you don’t notice a player during the game, especially at corner, it is a good thing. He continues to be in good position to make plays, and only gave up 1 reception on Saturday in 4 targets. He also has been very good in stuffing the runs by filling holes. I’m still intrigued by this move to corner for Green. It may take some more time, but it’s worth waiting and finding out.
Nate Hairston is one tough son of a b. He has been a great surprise and continues to impress on tape. His ability to jam wide receivers is really solid, and he is very impressive against the run. He looks to be molding into a true starting caliber cb.
Rashaan Melvin is fun to watch when he’s able to match up with the cat coverage (I got his cat, you get that cat). He does a really good job at getting into position and showed that on Saturday with an interception, and nearly had another one just a few plays later. He may not have the natural ability of Quincy Wilson or Nate Hairston, but it’s clear he understands the scheme of the defense and puts himself into position time after time. He’s over matched by guys like Antonio Brown, but who isn’t in the NFL? I think he’s a perfect depth guy for the Colts and can start until the younger studs are ready.
These are my main takeaways from the game. Again, I thought it was a very good showing from the Colts, and all of Indianapolis fans needed to see it. However there are still many things to work on to get ready for the Rams week 1.
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