The company line is to remind this is just preseason, but the Indianapolis Colts couldn’t summarily dismiss their latest exhibition loss as a result that didn’t count.
Offensive right tackle Jack Mewhort had trouble with pass protection. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton dropped a pass while wide open — although he bounced back with a 45-yard reception on the next play. Quarterback Andrew Luck missed on a couple of throws to an open Andre Johnson. And the defense, while forcing the Chicago Bears’ regulars to three field goals, allowed the visitors to mount drives and amass chunks of yardage.
The Colts’ 23-11 preseason loss to the Chicago Bears Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium had the home team acknowledging there’s still a lot of work to accomplish before the regular season begins.
“Not satisfied by any means. I don’t think anybody is satisfied,” Luck said after he five-of-nine passes for 71 yards, as well as a two-point pass, ran for a 5-yard touchdown and was sacked once.
But the three-time Pro Bowl passer isn’t panicked, either, despite the reality that the Colts have been outscored 59-21 in two exhibitions.
“We’ve got two more preseason games and we got to get better as we go,” he said. “I think we’re on the right track. I think we’re in a great spot. I don’t think anybody offensively, defensively, special teams is satisfied with where we are. We’ll continue to get better.”
Fact is, the Bears outplayed the Colts for much of the game, although the score was just 9-8 in favor of the visitors when both sides substituted for their regulars. Still, it’s fair to suggest the Colts’ preparations for a Saturday night preseason game at St. Louis should be intensified with the first round of roster cuts looming on Sept. 1.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do,” head coach Chuck Pagano said, after bemoaning penalties, and leaky pass protection.”
Mewhort, a second-year pro making the switch to right tackle after starting as a rookie at left guard, struggled at the outset to contain Bears pass rusher Pernell McPhee. Luck was sacked once and pressured on another play in the opening series.
“That’s on me,” Mewhort said. “I have to go back to the grindstone and get better and make sure I have to give Andrew time to make plays.”
Pagano didn’t sound concerned about Mewhort, who is taking the place of Gosder Cherilus, who was waived just before training camp.
“There’s going to be growing pains, with anybody,” the coach said. “You know, he’s a second-year player. We lose sight of the fact that he’s a second-year player. There’s going to be growing pains and we need to find out what we can do to accentuate those strengths.”
One of the Colts’ ongoing concerns in Luck’s three seasons is giving him stronger protection. He’s been sacked 100 times so far, the number improving each season but 27 last year was still higher than it should be.
Luck credited the Bears and, as always, blamed himself for the first-team offense sputtering early.
“It’s a tough defense with some werewolves over there. Pernell McPhee, Jared Allen, those guys are premier, premier pass rushers,” the quarterback said. “They certainly put a lot of pressure on you as an offense, especially in drop-back situations.
“A couple of things, I think, are sort of self-inflicted negatives, if you will. A drop, a bad throw to Andre over the middle. That’s on me. You gotta hit that, drops, so a combination of both, which by and large is always the case.”
Another Colts problem in recent years has been run defense. The Bears rushed for 71 yards on 18 carries (3.9 yards per carry) in the first half. They finished with 165 yards rushing on 36 carries (4.6 yards per carry) with one touchdown.
The good news is the Colts allowed Bears leading rusher Matt Forte to gain just 24 yards on eight carries, and 11 came on one carry.
“But again, when you play really good run defense it only takes one play,” Pagano said, “and we let a 46-yarder get out on us in the second half and we just can’t allow it.”
An obvious bright spot has been Colts rookie running back Josh Robinson, who led the team on the ground for a second consecutive game with 61 yards on 13 carries (4.7 yards per carry). The sixth-round pick has gained 105 yards on 23 carries (4.6 yards per carry) with one touchdown in preseason.
The Colts’ tackle leader was rookie inside linebacker Junior Sylvestre with seven stops. The undrafted defender had two sacks in the team’s opening loss at Philadelphia.
Safety Clayton Geathers, a fourth-round pick, was second on the team with five stops.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.