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Five Things Learned

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5 Things Learned: Colts vs. Vikings (Preseason, Week 2)

The Colts topped the Minnesota Vikings, 12-10, on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium. Here are five big things we learned, starting with a huge game from defensive end Ben Banogu. 

1. Ben Banogu was a menace.

While defensive end Ben Banogu didn't have a sack, he was a disruptive force all game long. His speed off the edge and rally-to-the-ball motor were key in a number of third down stops, and his contributions were a big reason why the Vikings managed just three points on offense. 

Banogu played fast and talked after the game about how his growing confidence is translating to stacking good days throughout camp. Because the thing is — the Banogu we saw Saturday is the Banogu we've seen quite a bit at Grand Park. 

"I think that's the biggest part, that's the most encouraging part is I pride myself on practicing hard, doing well during practice and having those things translate on the field was a big plus for me just because, like I said, last year was rough," Banogu said. "I don't really want to go to deep into it. But having that stuff translate on to the field, it definitely goes a long way." 

Banogu was a healthy scratch for seven of the Colts' 16 games in 2020 and didn't record a sack. But the 2019 second-round pick is playing with less "clutter," as defensive line coach Brian Baker said earlier this month, and has made tremendous strides both mentally and physically. 

"I've got better with my pass rush, my angle, my hands," Banogu said. "But I think a lot of pass rushing and playing defensive end and just defensive line in general is being able to start over with a clean slate from play to play. You can't linger on stuff that happened the play before or what happened the game before, stuff like that."

While Banogu was disruptive on Saturday, he also wasn't satisfied with his game since he didn't record a sack. 

"I gotta work on finishing," Banogu said. 

Still, it was impossible to miss Banogu's impact on so many of his 39 snaps. 

"Ben has always shown flashes, but this has been the most consistency that we've seen from Ben," head coach Frank Reich said. "So I'm encouraged by that. He just seems to be in a really good place mentally – just confident, strong mindset, really playing hard and really playing smart." 

2. The Colts' defensive identity kept growing.

Here's what the Colts did on third down against the Vikings

  • 1st quarter, 3rd & 3: Rock Ya-Sin pass break-up
  • 1st quarter, 3rd & 7: 6-yard completion, with Matt Adams and Bobby Okereke combining to bring down tight end Brandon Dillon just shy of the sticks
  • 2nd quarter, 3rd and 20: Good coverage forces Kirk Cousins to scramble for 9 yards
  • 2nd quarter, 3rd and 5: Al-Quadin Muhammed and Andrew Brown split a sack
  • 2nd quarter, 3rd and 10: Banogu pressure forces an incompletion 
  • 2nd quarter, 3rd and 7: Jake Browning completes a 15-yard pass to receiver Chad Beebe
  • 2nd quarter, 3rd and 10: Andre Chachere pressure on a nickel blitz forces an incompletion
  • 3rd quarter, 3rd and 3: Incomplete pass, with Banogu getting pressure
  • 3rd quarter, 3rd and 12: Brown, Banogu combine to tackle quarterback Kellen Mond for a three-yard gain
  • 3rd quarter, 3rd and 15: Six-yard completion, with Chachere making the tackle well short of the line to gain
  • 4th quarter, 3rd and 12: Six-yard completion
  • 4th quarter, 3rd and 4: Incompletion, with Chachere in coverage
  • 4th quarter, 3rd and 10: 19-yard completion, but as time expired with the Vikings backed up on their own six-yard line. 

So the Colts held the Vikings to just two of 13 conversions on third down; taking out that last one at the end of the game, it was one of 12 (8 percent). 

It takes disciplined, physical play on every level of the defense to have this kind of success on third down. And after the Colts' defense locked down in sudden change situations last week, this was another step in the right direction toward building a defensive identity in 2021. 

3. More time is still needed to evaluate the QBs.

After watching the film of Saturday's game, Reich confirmed his "hunch" that he and the Colts need a little more time to determine if Jacob Eason or Sam Ehlinger will open the season as their starter or backup quarterback, depending on Carson Wentz's availability. 

Reich said he hadn't settled on a playing time plan for Friday's preseason finale against the Lions — as in, who starts and how long the quarterbacks play — but he did make it clear there will be no one singular factor in deciding between Eason and Ehlinger. 

"We are going to evaluate the whole body of work," Reich said. "Obviously, this game will be a big game in it. As I told you, we're not making a decision yet, but I don't want to paint a picture like it all depends on who plays best in this one game. It's the whole body of work."

So that means every practice, walkthrough, meeting, conversation and, of course, game will be considered. And the Colts feel strongly about the amount of information they've gathered on Eason and Ehlinger, neither of whom had much (if any) NFL experience entering 2021. 

"There's so much positive. You've got two young quarterbacks that we've drafted that we feel like have good upside and have proven that they know how to play winning football," Reich said. "First and foremost, we feel like the evaluation process is at a good spot like, 'Hey, we're in good shape. We've got two guys that are giving us a chance here.' Games are weighted a little bit heavier for sure, but there are a lot of reps and a lot of meeting time that are going into the equation." 

Also worth noting here: Reich said whoever the starter is for the Lions game won't necessarily be an indication that quarterback won the competition. 

"There's a lot of dynamics at play here and we're just trying to do what's best for the team and what's best in light of the whole context of the situation," Reich said. "So you could read that into it but I don't think it's an absolute."

4. Jonathan Taylor didn't play, but could on Friday.

Taylor was held back on Saturday while plenty of other young starters, like Michael Pittman Jr., Zach Pascal and Bobby Okereke all played. 

As Reich explained it, Taylor's work in joint practices against the Carolina Panthers was good preparation for the season — but he still could play on Friday. 

"I felt like the week we played the Panthers, that second practice got pretty physical," Reich said. "Jonathan got hit quite a few times in that practice so I felt like that was good work for him. There is probably a chance he will play some in this last game. We're still talking that through. I feel like in many respects, seeing Jonathan and kind of his vision and how he's looked in practice – he looks like he is in midseason form to me. Like he really looks good, like he's seeing it clearly, making the right cuts. As you said, there is a little bit to getting hit. We try to simulate that in some ways thudding off at times and getting certain work for the running backs in individual, but there is probably a chance that we will want to get him a few carries this week."

5. Quick thoughts

  • The kicking competition with Rodrigo Blankenship and Eddy Pineiro has gone about as well as possible. Neither kicker missed again on Saturday, with Blankenship hitting a 47-yarder and Pineiro making a 50-yarder and his second game-winning field goal in as many preseason contests. Missed attempts have been few and far between in practice, too. 
  • Julie'n Davenport started at left tackle and played a team-high 60 snaps, and graded out well. "I thought he played well in the run game and in the pass game, so that was good," Reich said. 
  • Here's what Reich said about Ehlinger's two interceptions: "We don't obviously want turnovers. I would say yesterday, the first one – I don't know if that ball got tipped at the line or not. I didn't think it did but maybe it did. Some people were saying maybe it got tipped but I'm not sure. I would put that first one on Sam (Ehlinger). His footwork and his drop wasn't exactly what we're looking on that so didn't put himself in the best position. I would say the second one, I wouldn't put that second interception – there was some miscommunication on that second interception and Sam got put in a bad spot. Those are just the things you have to factor into the equation. It's unfortunate, but that's what happens sometimes. You're the quarterback, it's on you. You're the one that throws the interception, but it was just a little bit of a – for lack of a better term – a miscommunication on that play."

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