Colts prep for Rams like it's regular season

After two ugly preseason losses, the Colts say they're preparing a little more seriously for Saturday night's trip to St. Louis.

Quarterback Andrew Luck says it’s a dress rehearsal for the regular season.

Head coach Chuck Pagano is placing an emphasis on his Indianapolis Colts tackling better.

The starters are expected to play at least the first half and possibly into the third quarter in a Saturday night preseason visit to the St. Louis Rams.

But the reality is, the Colts usually don’t win these games. They might prepare for this next-to-last preseason game like it’s the regular season, practicing against the Rams’ offensive plays and preparing for their defensive looks.

Still, in recent Augusts the Colts are 1-7 in this supposed “serious” week of the exhibition schedule, when the starters play for the final time because next week’s preseason finale provides playing time to guys just trying to make the final roster.

So what’s really the truth about this game? Pagano and offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton admits part of the preseason puzzle is not unloading everything from the playbook. So there’s evidently a limit to how serious the Colts will be in their gameplan. Then again, if the Rams are on the same page, it’s all relative.

“I think everybody is going to do that,” Pagano said Thursday. “They’re not going to show everything that they have. You’re not going to fire all your bullets on offense, defense and special teams.

“You want to play good, sound, fundamental football, but you’re going to be limited. You don’t spend a lot of time, other than this week, game planning for your opponent. It can be two-fold. Some teams will give you a bunch of stuff to work on, and they’re never going to run it. So they can go both ways with it.”

The Colts have been outscored 59-21 in two preseason games against the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears. They’ve been outplayed for much of both games and weaknesses have been exposed — such as the offensive line struggling to keep Luck clean against the Bears.

The Colts’ O-line will be seriously tested by the Rams, who have a formidable defensive front led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, defensive end Robert Quinn and defensive end Chris Long.

“They’ve got a great front,” Pagano said. “Bunch of No. 1’s on there. They’ve got seven No. 1’s on that side of the ball and a bunch of No. 1’s on the d-line, so it’s going to be a great challenge.”

Luck spoke Tuesday of how preparation deviates from the preseason norm this week.

“You get in the rhythm of the practice week,” Luck said. “The young guys, especially, see how a preparation week goes. Then the game in the past history here, it’s been the most plays you’ve gotten and most sort of real season-like. It’s a great test, and it’s a great team. The Rams, that’s a fearsome front four. Some great players, a great secondary, so it’ll be tough.”

The Rams have dropped a pair of road preseason games by a combined 45-17, so something has to give at the Edward Jones Dome.

Colts fans obviously want to see something encouraging, considering this team has been tabbed by many as a Super Bowl contender. The Colts have lost seven consecutive preseason games and are 4-10 in exhibitions since Pagano arrived in 2012. But this team has also gone 11-5 in each of the past three seasons, won two AFC South Division titles and prevailed in three of six playoff games.

NFL teams have their own agendas in August. This month has reiterated that truth with the Colts.

“I’m pretty excited because we get to play a lot more and really kind of see where we’re at as a team going into this regular season,” said Colts outside linebacker Trent Cole.

How much this game will be an accurate barometer of Colts progress remains to be seen.

Phillip B. Wilson also can be found on Facebook and Google+.

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