What We Learned: Vikings at Colts

The preseason — particularly when the Indianapolis Colts are involved — can be little more than a tease, as fans don't see much of the players they'll be cheering for once the real season begins. Still there were things to be learned, and Eric Hartz points out a few inside.

The Colts have the same laissez-faire attitude towards the preseason under Jim Caldwell they had under Tony Dungy: Following along on Twitter during the preseason opener, a casual fan would probably be led to think the 2009 Colts will rival the 2008 Detroit Lions for futility. However, real fans know that the version of the Colts we see in the preseason bears little resemblance to the regular season Colts.

After Friday's 13-3 loss, Indianapolis has now lost 17 preseason games since 2004. It has only lost 16 regular-season games since 2004. Clearly, this team takes the regular season a lot more seriously than the preseason.

Jim Caldwell said after the game that "I'll stop worrying about winning when they stop keeping score in these games" but that was little more than lip service. The Colts held out a large group of players that could have helped them win, played Peyton Manning and Joseph Addai for just one series and used backups and backups' backups for the majority of the game.

And honestly, it's tough to quibble with the Colts' approach. Keeping players healthy and seeing how borderline roster players do in a game is the primary objective for the Colts in preseason. And while the Colts accomplished the latter goal — plenty of players trying to make the team saw significant time — they struggled with the former as Raheem Brock injured his hand early in the game. He Tweeted Sunday evening that he would miss three weeks but be back in time for the Jacksonville game.

Some of the Colts' young linemen were impressive — but maybe not the ones fans thought would be: Much has been made of the Colts' offseason efforts to improve on the defensive line, and the Colts drafted two such players, Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor, in the first half of the draft.


Donald Brown produced the biggest highlight of the game Friday
AP Photo/Michael Conroy

Taylor and Moala both saw playing time Friday, but neither recorded a tackle. In fact, the most impressive rookie lineman was undrafted rookie Adrian Grady, who had a hand in seven tackles. Five of those were solo and one was for a loss.

Grady's success was no surprise to fans that saw him repeatedly abuse Mike Pollak in the Colts' final full-contact practice last Wednesday. The rookie from Louisville was able to cap an impressive training camp with a strong performance in the first preseason game. If he can keep it up, a roster spot could await.

The other two defensive linemen that really played well were Marcus Howard — who only recorded one tackle, but twice had the quarterback in his grasp and couldn't finish the sack, and was consistently disruptive — and Rudolph Hardie, a player that didn't even join the Colts until the day before the game. Hardie had four tackles, one for a loss, and one quarterback hurry.

The Colts' defense is still a work in progress: Two of the most glaring problems with the Colts defense last season were stopping the run (24th in the league in yards per game allowed in 2008) and getting off the field on third down (tied for last in the league in 2008). Friday, there wasn't much improvement in those two categories.

The Vikings rushed for a whopping 198 yards in the game and averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Unacceptable, of course, and definitely a step in the wrong direction. Sure, the Vikings are one of the strongest running teams in the league and the Colts held some players out, but the front seven of the defense — particularly on the first drive of the game — was largely intact with the same players we'll see start the season.

Getting off the field was another familiar problem. Last season, the Colts allowed a first down on a third down 47 percent (100-of-211) of the time, tied with Kansas City for worst in the league.

Friday, the Colts cut the percentage down to 41 percent (7-of-17) but also allowed two first downs on two fourth down attempts, both on the game's first drive. On the first attempt, the Colts had their "jumbo" defensive line package in — with Raheem Brock and Keyunta Dawson at the ends — but Adrian Peterson was able to pick up five yards for a first down. Daniel Muir got a quick jump on the play, but Dawson was overwhelmed by Steve Hutchinson and linebacker Clint Session couldn't shed his block quickly enough to stop the play at the point of attack. On the second fourth-down attempt, Tim Jennings blew his assignment, following a play-action fake down the line as Visanthe Shiancoe released to the corner for a first down.

There were some positives from the defense, like strong open-field tackling, good plays on the ball by defensive backs, and some relatively successful blitzing — but it wasn't a promising start in the two areas they need to show the most improvement.

The Colts rookies looked good, for the most part: We've discussed Grady, Taylor and Moala already, and while Taylor and Moala didn't do much worth talking about, Donald Brown, Austin Collie and Pat McAfee all impressed.

One thing I noted last week in practice is that Brown has a knack for making himself skinny as he moves through holes without slowing down. He showed that when he got his chance in the second quarter, energizing the crowd with runs of 11, 6 and 38 yards. The 38-yard run was clearly the play of the game for the Colts and set up the only score of the game for Indianapolis, a 42-yard field goal by Shane Andrus.

McAfee showed off his big leg with punts of 63, 62 and 55 yards on his first three attempts. It takes ore than just kicking the ball a long way to succeed as a punter in the NFL, so keep an eye on McAfee in the coming weeks to see how he deals with some of the subtleties of the position. He also did a good job holding, and is off to a promising start.

Colllie led the team in receiving with four catches — albeit for only 17 yards — and made the catch all four times he was targeted. Coupled with a disappointing performance by Pierre Garcon (just one catch in four targets), Collie continued to make a strong case for playing time.

Look for a more thorough analysis of the rookies' play, including a look at Jerraud Powers' night, in an upcoming story.


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