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Five Things Learned

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5 Colts Things Learned, Preseason Week 1: Inside Anthony Richardson's debut, Shaquille Leonard's return and more from Buffalo

Saturday's preseason opener confirmed some observations we've noticed at Grand Park during training camp, and showed some things that can only show up in a game. 

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1. Anthony Richardson's even-keel demeanor carried over to a game.

The Colts, over the last two and a half weeks, saw Richardson respond to both the highs and lows of training camp the same way.

"He's a next play guy — 'so what, now what,'" wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. said. "Whether it's good, whether it's bad."

It's one thing to keep that demeanor in practice; it's another to have it in a game. But after Richardson threw an interception on his first drive as a pro quarterback, he maintained that same level head and improved over his final two possessions of Saturday's game.

"It was great to see how he responded to that," quarterback Gardner Minshew told Colts Media's Larra Overton during the game. "He came back, led a couple good drives — didn't get points but had positive plays, making good decisions. I think he's as long as he's doing that we're going to be playing good ball."

The point here is Richardson didn't let one miscue – regardless of whose fault it was – snowball into anything else. We've seen him navigate those situations in practice. And on Saturday, we saw him navigate it in a game.

2. Richardson's poise and strength with the ball in his hands showed up.

Three individual moments that stood out when re-watching Richardson's afternoon:

  • First quarter, 11:32, first and 10 on the Colts' 25-yard line: Richardson kept a read option, and Bills defensive end Greg Rousseau lunged to hit him. The 266-pound Rousseau wrapped his arms around Richardson's left leg, eventually sliding down to the quarterback's ankle. Richardson escaped the tackle, put his foot in the ground and took off, eventually driving his left (non-throwing) shoulder through cornerback Kaiir Elam. Instead of a loss of a few yards, Richardson gained five yards. We hadn't seen Richardson be live yet until Saturday; his play strength and speed, clearly, make him difficult to bring down.
  • First quarter, 3:47, first and 10 on the Colts' 30-yard line: Out of the shotgun, Richardson fakes a handoff to running back Evan Hull, drawing linebacker Tyrel Dodson toward the line of scrimmage. Dodson quickly begins backpedaling while keeping eyes on Richardson as tight end Kylen Granson works into space about five yards behind the Bills linebacker. Richardson rips the throw, and Dodson seemed to read it – only by the time he gets his hand in the air to defend the pass, the ball has zipped by him into the arms of Granson for a 20-yard gain. This is where Richardson's quick release and arm strength can allow him to make tight-window throws other quarterbacks can't.
  • First quarter, 3:15, first and 10 on Bills' 34-yard line: Richardson goes play-action from the shotgun, with a single-high safety (Damar Hamlin) and man coverage on Pittman (wide) and Alec Pierce (slot). Hamlin comes downhill on the play fake, leaving Pierce one-on-one on a slot fade toward the end zone. Richardson identifies the opportunity to take a shot and floats a "nice deep ball," as Steichen described it, to Pierce. While Pierce wasn't able to come down with the catch, the touch Richardson put on the ball was fantastic. And he made that throw while feeling pressure to his right and calmly stepping up in the pocket, showing good poise in the process.

3. Other notes and observations on the offense.

  • Left tackle Bernhard Raimann didn't allow a pressure on 12 pass blocking snaps. The Colts ran a decent amount of quick game and screens, but Raimann stonewalled Bills defensive ends Leonard Floyd, Boogie Basham and A.J. Epenesa on longer-developing pass plays.
  • Center Ryan Kelly moved well to pull through a hole and deliver a physical lead block on linebacker Dorian Williams, clearing a path for running back Deon Jackson to pick up a first down with the Colts backed up close to their own end zone.
  • Minshew was sacked twice on his first drive, but was in rhythm and completed all six of his pass attempts to lead the Colts into the end zone late in the second quarter.
  • Wide receiver Mike Strachan fought through pass interference to make a physical snag of a Minshew pass in the second quarter.
  • Wide receiver Josh Downs flashed his knack for getting open and feeling holes in coverage on a couple of receptions in his pro debut.

4. Shaquille Leonard's return was uneventful yet meaningful.

Leonard didn't have a chance to make a tackle during the six snaps he and the Colts' first-team defense played on Saturday (five plays were ran, one was waved off for a penalty). But the most important thing here was seeing No. 53 on the field again.

Colleague Raven Moore has the full story on Leonard's return to action. Zooming out, though, Leonard continues to hit encouraging benchmarks – he didn't start training camp on PUP, then immediately participated in non-padded full-team practice periods. He worked his way up to participating in full-padded, full-team drills last weekend, then on Saturday played in a game.

The Colts and Leonard have emphasized not over-doing anything and taking an intentional, methodical approach to the three-time first-team All-Pro linebacker's workload. None of this is being rushed. We'll see where Leonard is in the coming days and weeks, but again: Just having him on the field Saturday was a significant moment.

View the best photos from the Colts 2023 preseason opener versus the Buffalo Bills on August 12 at Highmark Stadium.

5. Other notes and observations on the defense.

  • Cornerback Darrell Baker Jr. had a physical pass break-up on third-and-three to end the Bills' second drive. He lined up in press coverage and didn't give an inch when wide receiver Trent Sherfield cut back toward the middle of the field on a whip route. Maybe Sherfield should've been credited with a pass break-up, since Baker came close to picking off quarterback Kyle Allen on the play.
  • Cornerback Darius Rush's pick-six confirmed the 4.36-second 40-yard dash he ran at the NFL Combine is pretty close to his actual play speed.
  • Linebacker Grant Stuard played 40 snaps – second-most behind cornerback Chris Lammons – and had an active day on defense; he also registered an impressive open-field tackle with the Colts' punt coverage unit.

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