Indianapolis Colts offense is nothing without Luck

    The Indianapolis Colts kicked off their preseason schedule on Thursday night in Buffalo. The offense struggled mightily without QB Andrew Luck.

    The Indianapolis Colts began their preseason schedule Thursday night against the Buffalo Bills, a game we recently previewed, with an uneven performance. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights and lowlights from the evening that did not feature star quarterback Andrew Luck.

    A slow start in the first half offensively

    With Andrew Luck still sidelined (calf strain), the Indianapolis Colts offense sputtered out of the gate Thursday night in Buffalo. Jacoby Brissett was under center to start, albeit briefly, but only managed a 2-for-5, 21-yard performance that yielded just a single first down on his three possessions.

    Phillip Walker wouldn’t fare much better in relief. The offense went three-and-out in his first three drives including a turnover on downs on the third possession when he sailed a ball over Marcus Johnson on 4th-and-4.

    Drive number four saw the team manage their second first down of the game but ended with an interception just two plays later. Mercifully, Walker was able to engineer a field goal drive in the final minute of the half salvaging what he could from an otherwise shaky performance. The 24-year-old rookie out of Temple finished the night 8-for-18 with 85 yards and the lone interception.

    All told, the Colts were out-gained 235-85 in the first half. Their first (and only) successful third-down conversion didn’t come until 1:56 remaining in the second quarter (1-for-7 for the half; 4-for-16 for the game).

    Offensive line struggles

    One major culprit for the slow start was the boys up front. They simply were not able to create any space in the running game. Starter Nyheim Hines was held to a single yard on six carries en route to a 16-yard first-half rushing performance by the Indianapolis Colts. Not great.

    There were breakdowns in protection as well in what was a rough night for Colts offensive tackles. First, Braden Smith was beaten by Bills seventh-round rookie Darryl Johnson with a speed rush and rip move. Johnson managed to deflect Brissett’s pass as it was coming out, forcing an incomplete and three-and-out.

    Then, rookie offensive tackle Jackson Barton surrendered a sack to third-year-veteran Eddie Yarbrough in the middle of the third quarter on a similar speed-rip combo.

    Second-year tackle Antonio Garcia probably had the roughest night surrendering three pressures (that I counted), one resulting in a hurry and another that saw quarterback Chad Kelly hit the deck. Garcia was also flagged for holding for good measure.

    While the final numbers on the ground weren’t pretty (24 carries, 50 yards by running backs), It’s by no means time to press the panic button. It was simply a flat, uninspiring performance. The kind the preseason is infamous for producing.

    Chad Kelly shines in the second half

    The line may have struggled, but that didn’t seem to bother Chad Kelly. The nephew of NFL Hall-of-Famer and Bills legend Jim Kelly stole the show in the second half. He opened the fourth quarter with a 21-yard run on a play that closely resembled the “QB Eagles” shotgun sweep from Tecmo Super Bowl (yes, I’m old). The offense flanked three wideouts all to the right then pulled a pair of interior lineman to the weak side to lead the way for Kelly.

    The former Ole Miss standout wasn’t done showing off his burners just yet. He scampered untouched for a 33-yard touchdown on a read-keeper on the subsequent possession. This would turn out to be the team’s longest play on the night. Kelly would finish the game as the Indianapolis Colts’ leading rusher with four carries, 54 yards, and a touchdown.

    While the splash runs will dominate the highlights, the Buffalo native was crisp through the air too. Kelly notably made several sharp throws on the night finishing 13-for-21 with 121 yards. Head coach Frank Reich had this to say of the 25-year-old’s performance:

    “Chad, obviously, made a few nice plays there,” Reich said. “Had the touchdown run. Made a couple good throws under pressure. I was happy for Chad, coming home to Buffalo. It was nice that he played well and did some good things in the second half.”

    Running Backs

    The box score may not have been anything to write home about, but there were some positives for the running backs. Fourth-year-journeyman (actual years, not accrued) Jonathan Williams was a load to bring down all night. It genuinely seemed like he broke a tackle on every one of his 13 touches.

    Late in the second quarter, it was Williams that broke the Colts streak of five consecutive three-and-outs with a six-yard carry out of shotgun. Early in the third quarter, he showed great concentration reeling in a tough catch tipping the ball back to himself. Later in the drive, he was stood up behind the line on fourth-and-one, but spun out for the first down on a determined second effort.

    Two plays later, Williams showed patience and anticipation on a zone stretch bending it back at the opportune time for a gain of 5 yards. Doesn’t seem like much, but its the kind of execution coaches are looking for. Final tally: a well-earned 24 yards on eight carries and five receptions for another 33 yards in the air. Impressive considering the general lack of push throughout the game.

    Aca’Cedric Ware also impressed despite meager final results. He looked quick, decisive, and explosive on his eight carries for 25 yards. He flashed his burst, getting to the edge for seven yards near the end of the third quarter. Then, showed well in pass protection stonewalling a free blitzer three times before the play ultimately broke down. Ware displayed impressive balance a short time later on a screen pass when he went down to a hand before spinning back to his feet.

    The recently re-signed free agent looked great, especially considering he just rejoined the team a day before the game. The undrafted rookie from USC is looking to make things interesting in a crowded Indianapolis Colts’ running back room.

    D’Onta Foreman, claimed Monday off of waivers, did not play. Take that as you will.

    The front seven

    Have yourself a day, Carroll Phillips. The third-year-veteran was a problem all night for the Bills offense. He recorded his first of two sacks diagnosing a play-fake perfectly and smothering Josh Allen on the bootleg. Then, early in the second quarter, he recovered a bad snap that said over Matt Barkley‘s head. Gerri Green, who was generally disruptive all night, showed good awareness shoving Barkely past the ball.

    Phillips tallied his second sack a late in the third quarter. This one of Tyree Jackson on a well-defended screen. On the night: two solo tackles, one assist, two sacks, two TFL, and four pressures (unofficially).

    Fifth-round rookie E.J. Speed led the Indianapolis Colts in tackles with 5 solo and 1 assist while flying well to the ball. He did pick up a pretty blatant helmet-to-helmet flag but made up for it with a heads-up pass deflection on the following snap. Phillips, again, provided the hurry.

    Al-Quadin Muhammad pitched in with 3 solo tackles of his own as well as a sack (though I credited the coverage).

    Other Notes and Observations

    Daurice Fountain led the way in the passing game with 5 receptions for 63 yards on 7 targets. His longest coming on a corner route for 26 yards. My play of the game for the Colts offense:

    • Bills rookie running back Christian Wade took the first carry of his pro career 65 yards for a touchdown. Wade, a former rugby union player in the U.K., is part of the NFL’s International Player Pathway Program. A great moment for the 28-year-old, his teammates, and NFL fans across the pond:

    • Andrew Luck sounds confident he will be ready for week 1, but did hedge ever so slightly when speaking with NBC Sports’ Peter King:

    I asked Luck if he had any doubt he’d be ready to play opening day. “No,” he said. “I certainly believe I will [be ready]. That’s certainly the goal.” But when I asked him how stubborn the injury has been, he said: “At times I do worry about it. It can be frustrating. The arc of an injury, whether it’s a big surgical one or something you’re rehabbing through. But no, because I’ve improved. Maybe I’m not improving as fast as I want and missing things is no fun. It eats at you. But I do know at the end of the day if I’m getting the most out of myself, if I’m being the best I can that day, then that’s what I need to do.”

    Again, nothing for Indianapolis Colts’ fans to lose sleep over. Yet.

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