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Analysis: Not all fixed, but Colts not so bad

Colts provide an encouraging preseason result with a Saturday win in St. Louis, and a reminder not to panic too soon in August.

This is what’s supposed to happen, of course, after many in Blue Nation are convinced that perception is reality, that the offensive line is a mess, that a defense with treadmarks from being run over in playoffs past isn’t fixed and that the Indianapolis Colts seemed destined for a regular-season collapse.

No, folks, that’s called preseason. And it’s not to be taken too seriously. It helps to keep these NFL money grab exhibitions in some semblance of perspective.

Sure, we get concerned about some things. It’s fair to say the Colts didn’t sort out everything in Saturday night’s 24-14 road win over the St. Louis Rams at Edward Jones Dome. There are legitimate questions moving forward, but there are about every NFL team from week to week.

Finally, after losing seven consecutive preseason games — twice by margins that had me questioning how much the Colts were putting into these exhibitions — they played a decent game, made plays on both sides of the ball as well as recovering an onside kick, and gave concerned Colts fans reason to chill.

Even backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck played well. Imagine that, after some in the local media tried to convince everyone that the 39-year-old sage was washed up.

A lot of negative perceptions took a serious hit in this game, which was a good thing.

The O-line can’t block anybody? There’s still some rough stuff to work out, but we saw the Colts do a decent job against a solid Rams front. The Colts helped out right tackle Jack Mewhort with an extra blocker, often tight end Dwayne Allen. Mewhort is in his second year and playing a second position after the former second-round pick played left guard last season. He’s going to make progress and have some humbling moments, but he’s not a bad football player just because the Chicago Bears’ Pernell McPhee humbled him last week.

A defense missing outside linebacker Robert Mathis allowed Rams quarterback Nick Foles to be near perfect passing, but much of it was underneath stuff. The one touchdown allowed by the first team was just one guy beating another. Pro Bowl safety Mike Adams got turned around by Rams wide receiver Chris Givens. It happens to even the best of players.

Aside from that, the Colts got after the Rams’ quarterbacks as outside linebacker Erik Walden had 1.5 of the visitor’s three sacks. Yeah, he’s the guy who is supposed to set the edge when stopping the run, but he can rush the passer, too. He did have a career-high six sacks last year.

Speaking of that run defense, the Rams managed just 2.5 yards per carry on 29 attempts. Granted, these guys weren’t the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, but they reminded us that most teams don’t embarrass the Colts by just handing it off.

I’ve been critical of the Colts because they didn’t seem to be overly committed to what was going on in being outscored 59-21 by the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears. Players played hard, but it seemed more about getting the young one snaps and putting them in challenging situations. Fair enough, but when any NFL team is playing predictable and just, plain vanilla, the results aren’t going to be satisfactory.

Again, that’s the preseason. I asked offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton last week about the team not wanting to show too much in these games. He admitted that’s always part of it. Head coach Chuck Pagano said the same thing on Thursday. That was a reminder there’s much more to the Colts than what we were seeing.

Now for the lingering questions.

Are the Colts legit Super Bowl contenders? Who knows? Seriously. That gets determined in January and February. Long time to wait and wonder. I’ve been saying that since before training camp opened.

What’s the status of the O-line? I’m still unconvinced that the best five out there includes Lance Louis at left guard. We won’t know for a while if/when Donald Thomas returns to the lineup, but he could be a key to how well this unit performs. As stated, Mewhort is going to be OK. Just give him some time, and give the Colts some credit for realizing when the guy needs a bit of help. The Colts made it to the AFC Championship Game last January with backup Joe Reitz at right tackle because they helped him at times to ensure quarterback Andrew Luck had time.

What about the Colts’ run game? They didn’t pound the rock well at St. Louis, but Frank Gore didn’t play one snap, either. We’ll see how the rushing game looks when everybody is playing and the games count. I'm not overly concerned.

Do the Colts know who should start at nose tackle? Josh Chapman finally made his first stop of the preseason, and it came in the third quarter against backups. The more I watch him play, the more I suspect the Colts like rookie David Parry because the newcomer is active and plays fast. He gets shoved around at times, sure. Few rookies walk into this league and dominate. But the kid has got a tremendous motor and we saw him in the Rams’ backfield a lot more than Chapman. That’s been a continuing trend through preseason.

Who will be the center? Khaled Holmes appears to have the upper hand on Jonotthan Harrison, although that could change from game to game because Holmes still gets too high at times and knocked back. That said, Harrison had trouble when he entered this game on the third series. For now, the Colts are starting the right guy.

Are there any injuries to be concerned about? Finally, we get to perhaps the most important observation about August football. When defensive tackle Arthur Jones hurt his left ankle on the opening series, that became a big question mark for the future. Jones wasn’t himself for much of last season due to a right high ankle sprain. The Colts invested a lot of money in this guy to be one of their better defensive players. You hope this isn’t serious. But you wonder and you worry because he’s an important piece.

Rookie running back Josh Robinson was impressive until Saturday, when he lost a handoff from Luck — of course, the quarterback blames himself — and then the rusher exited after the lost fumble with a concussion. That probably means Robinson won’t get to play in Thursday’s home preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, but the sixth-round pick has shown enough to make this final roster.

Is running back Vick Ballard going to be cut? That this sentimental story took a negative turn with Ballard being inactive due to a hamstring issue is disappointing. So many including myself are pulling for this guy. But he won’t make this roster unless he can stay on the field. Hopefully he can play against the Bengals. If nothing else, a strong performance in that game would make the final exhibition worth watching. If he can’t go, we shouldn't be surprised if the Colts decide they must move on.

Finally, we’ve reached the first cuts on Tuesday. None of them should be a surprise. The first cut isn’t the deepest — from 90 to 75 players — but thankfully there’s only one more preseason game and then the roster will be trimmed to 53.

Then everything gets more serious. And we’ll know for sure what we’re seeing when the Colts visit the Buffalo Bills in the season opener on Sept. 13.

The NFL season is a rollercoaster, always with its share of ups and downs. If we’ve been reminded about anything in preseason, especially about a perennial playoff team with a star quarterback, it’s to not panic in August.

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

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