Saturday's preseason finale provided a unique look for the Indianapolis Colts' coaching and personnel staffs heading into Tuesday's final round of roster cuts.
In seasons past, the third preseason game typically served as the "dress rehearsal" for the top offensive and defensive units as they hoped to get in a few final solid drives to build momentum heading into the start of the regular season. The fourth preseason game, meanwhile, served as a "final audition" for the rest of the roster—guys using four quarters to battle for the final few spots on the roster.
Now that the NFL has trimmed its preseason down to three games, though, Saturday's finale at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers served as both a dress rehearsal and final audition for the Colts. Indy not only pulled away with a 27-10 victory, but the team checked several important boxes as it officially turns its attention to the 2022 regular season opener Sept. 11 on the road against the Houston Texans.
"Good finish to the preseason," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "We came in here and really wanted to accomplish some things—wanted the (starting) guys to get a little bit of time, and we got good execution in some of the situational football. That was important. Saw some things that we wanted to see, got guys out (there)."
Offensively, the first-team unit led by quarterback Matt Ryan ended up playing three drives on Saturday, getting into the end zone on drive No. 3 thanks to a one-yard touchdown by running back Deon Jackson, capping a five-play, 48-yard drive that took just 2:35 off the clock. That first unit was without its top two running backs in Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines (rest), as well as center Ryan Kelly (illness), who was replaced in the lineup by Danny Pinter; Will Fries occupied Pinter's usual spot at right guard.
Ryan completed 5-of-7 passes for 59 yards for an overall rating of 96.7, and he also took off for an 11-yard rushing play to move the sticks early in the first quarter.
Starting with the second quarter, however, the Colts mostly ran out a hungry group of players hoping to make a final positive impression in their final "job interview" before the start of the season.
At wide receiver, for example, the team seems set at spots 1-4 with Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell, Alec Pierce, and Ashton Dulin. But the Colts in the past have kept as many as six wide receivers heading into the start of the regular season, giving guys like Dezmon Patmon, Michael Strachan, and Keke Coutee, among others, a legit chance at earning a spot with solid preseason performances.
Offensively, Patmon and Strachan did just that. Patmon on Saturday had a team-high-tying three receptions for 50 yards, while Strachan had one catch for 11 yards. Coutee, meanwhile, showed off his skills as a returner, averaging 10 yards on seven total punt returns, including a long of 17 yards.
Patmon, who finished with the fourth-most preseason receiving yards in the NFL (171), said he was happy to have another opportunity to show what he can do.
"It feels great, obviously, going out there and having an opportunity to play," said Patmon, who had nine total receptions and a touchdown this preseason. "We all grew up playing this game as little kids, so this is the most fun thing I get to do all week. So it's always fun to just get out there and ball with my bros."
Strachan, meanwhile, battled his way back from offseason knee surgery to return just in time for the team's second preseason game against the Detroit Lions. He finished his two preseason games with four receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown.
"It was great to see it through this process," he said. "It's been a long process for me, just trying to get back out there. I've been working. But I'm happy to be back with the team.
"I knew we didn't have any time to waste — the first game was right around the corner," Strachan added. "So I had to come strong and come ready to roll. My team depends on me, and I'm ready for whatever my team needs."
Defensively, the Colts' second and third units were at times dominant on Saturday against the Buccaneers' second- and third-team offensive units. In the second half, Tampa Bay had just 122 total net yards, converted just 1-of-5 third downs, and were held to an average of just 2.5 yards on 15 rushing attempts.
Entering his fourth season in 2022, defensive end Ben Banogu certainly knows the importance of the final preseason game. With depth spots still to be won along the Colts' defensive line, the former second-round pick showed out this preseason, finishing with nine total tackles, including four tackles for loss, and two sacks. On Saturday alone, Banogu had five tackles (three for a loss) and a sack.
"I think a lot of it was just time on the grass," Banogu said of capitalizing on his opportunities this preseason. "I feel like in previous seasons, for whatever reason, the opportunity wasn't there. But with this coaching staff and the way they believe in us in the room and personally the way they believe in me, it just gives me the freedom to not feel pressed and go out there and make plays and do well for my teammates. And whenever you do your 1:11, everyone shines. I think today it just so happened that the light was on me, but for the most part, it's on everybody at different times. That's the beauty of this defense."
The next focus for the Colts is Tuesday's 4 p.m. ET cutdown to the initial 53-man roster, followed by possible waiver wire pickups and formation of the practice squad. Then the team will have 12 days before opening up the regular season at NRG Stadium, as Indy hopes to claim its first Week 1 victory since 2013.
"It's tough decisions ahead of us," Reich said. "I feel like when we look back at the preseason, from OTAs to training camp to the preseason games, I feel like we checked the boxes we wanted to check and we've got some confidence heading into the season."