INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts on Saturday fell to the Cleveland Browns, 21-18, in their preseason Week 2 matchup at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts (0-2) got off to a slow start offensively, but the first-team offense was able to pick up the pace on its final drive of the game, as quarterback Jacoby Brissett found tight end Eric Ebron with a perfectly-placed pass in the end zone for a touchdown, giving the unit some positive momentum heading into next Saturday's regular season dress rehearsal against the Chicago Bears.
"Just really a good confidence builder for us, our offense and Jacoby to play like that, and that's what we've been seeing in practice," head coach Frank Reich said. "But it's just good to have one in a preseason game."
Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Saturday's loss to the Browns:
• "IN CONTROL:" The first-team offense couldn't get much going last week in the preseason opener against the Buffalo Bills, getting just one first down and logging just one rushing yard on six attempts. Saturday's game against the Browns didn't start out much better, as the Colts went three and out on their first drive and got as far as their own 18-yard line on their second drive before punting. But the third and final drive was much better. The Colts went 85 yards in 10 plays, and Brissett was able to find Ebron for the 12-yard touchdown to end his night completing an efficient 8-of-10 passes for 100 yards and a touchdown, for a rating of 141.7. "Even when we stalled early on, Jacoby – I could just feel he was in control," Reich said. "He's in the zone and just kind of felt real confident in how he was seeing things and his presence out there."
• DEFENSIVE LINEUPS: We're beginning to see defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus' various defensive lineups begin to take shape, although there was still a good bit of mixing and matching Saturday, as he's been prone to do during practices. Against the Browns, the Colts opened up in their nickel package, and one could guess the starters at every position but one, outside cornerback, heading into the game. The usual starters who opened up the game for Indy were in there against the Browns: Justin Houston (defensive end), Margus Hunt (defensive tackle), Denico Autry (defensive tackle) and Al-Quadin Muhammad (defensive end) up front; Darius Leonard (WILL) and Anthony Walker (MIKE) at linebacker; Pierre Desir (outside) and Kenny Moore II (slot) at corneback; and Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker at safety. But that one other final outside corner spot on Saturday was claimed by rookie Rock Ya-Sin. If defensive end Jabaal Sheard, who continues to work his way back from a minor knee procedure, can't play Week 1 against the Los Angeles Chargers, could this be the Colts' opening day defensive lineup? For what it's worth, usual SAM linebacker Matthew Adams did not play against the Browns; replacing him in the base 4-3 defense was fellow second-year linebacker Zaire Franklin.
• CALL IT A COMEBACK: The Colts have a few players making their way back from season-ending injuries last year, and two of them — wide receiver Deon Cain and tight end Ross Travis — had substantial contributions on Saturday. Cain, who tore his ACL in the Colts' preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks last year, led both teams with seven receptions for 80 yards; Travis, who also suffered a torn ACL late in the team's 2018 preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, hauled in a 24-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chad Kelly early in the fourth quarter. Reich said just getting out on the field and making plays is a huge step forward in both players' recoveries. "We wouldn't put them back on the field physically if we didn't think they were ready, right, which we all get that, so it is mental and that's a big step," Reich said. "That's a big step and the quickest way to get over that step is to make plays, and so good for both of those guys that they had a chance to make a play."
• QUICK KEMOKO: Defensive end Kemoko Turay showed plenty of flashes off the edge in his rookie season in 2018, finishing with four sacks and 13 quarterback hits. Heading into his second season, Turay has been working non-stop on his array of pass rush moves so that he can find more consistency throughout the entire season. His hard work has seemed to pay off the last couple weeks particularly, starting with the preseason opener against the Bills and then carrying over into the final few training camp practices, including the last two joint practice sessions with the Browns, where Turay at times looked unstoppable. That theme continued Saturday, as Turay, utilized primarily as a third-down specialist, had one sack of quarterback Garrett Gilbert for a loss of 10 yards, forcing a punt, while he also stuffed running back D'Ernest Johnson for a loss of three on Cleveland's next drive. "Some consistency and good durability. Just getting in better and better shape," Reich said when asked what he's seen out of Turay lately. "I mean, he made plays in the run game tonight and you always feel his presence in the pass game, so you know, I think with Turay, it's just make small incremental improvements to show the consistencies, stay healthy and we really feel like he can have a big year for us."
• SEEING YELLOW: Reich is sure glad Saturday's game was a preseason contest, because the penalties called on his team really piled up by game's end. In all, the Colts were flagged 16 times for 164 yards; the Browns weren't much better, as they had 13 penalties for 119 yards. One can probably chalk that up to guys still knocking the rust off, and then the officials being a little bit more aggressive in preseason with their various points of emphasis. Whatever the case may be, the coaches will grade the game film and get those mistakes corrected ASAP. "Too many penalties, right?" Reich said. "I mean we had 16 (penalties) for 164 (yards), so it's not only minus-164, it's how many yards – the net yards you lose on those penalties, so we understand it's preseason and the officials are going to point an emphasis on things, so we've got to use it as a learning opportunity. We don't complain about that stuff. We need to figure it out, although we may complain about it on the field at the time, but afterwards we just gotta clean it up and figure out how to play within the rules."
Catch all the best action on the field as the Indianapolis Colts host the Cleveland Browns at Lucas Oil Stadium for their second game of the 2019 preseason.