SEATTLE — Things started out a bit leaky for the Indianapolis Colts’ defense on Thursday night in the team’s preseason opener, as it allowed quarterback Russell Wilson to lead the Seattle Seahawks on a 12-play, 75-yard scoring drive on their first possession.
The Seahawks marched right down the field again on their next drive, but Colts cornerback Nate Hairston was able to pick off an errant Austin Davis pass in the end zone.
The play by Hairston is a prime example of a young Colts’ defensive unit that is still working out some kinks in its transition to a 4-3 base scheme, but one that can overcome some of those growing pains with its playmakers at all three levels.
There were some other positive points for the Colts’ defense in the first half. For example, we saw some nice plays out of rookie linebackers Skai Moore and Darius Leonard, both of whom started the game.
We also saw defensive end John Simon and defensive tackle Denico Autry converge in the Seahawks’ backfield on consecutive plays, bringing Davis down both times. That forced a Seahawks punt from their own three-yard line on 4th and 20.
The veteran Simon finished the game with 1.5 sacks, as he showed no signs of slowing down in his move from outside linebacker to defensive end.
“There is no doubt,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said after the game when asked how Simon is able to become a different player in game situations. “He has been doing that for a long time. He did a really nice job tonight.”
The Colts were actually able to harass the Seattle backfield a fair amount throughout the night, registering four sacks, seven quarterback hits and eight tackles for loss.
Perhaps the overall star of the night for the Indy defense was defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, who logged two key sacks that resulted in a combined loss of 21 yards, as well as an additonal tackle for loss, as Seattle tried to mount a second-half comeback.
Ridgeway started his show with a tackle for loss against running back J.D. McKissic. Two plays later on third down, Ridgeway chased quarterback Alex McGough and brought him down for a loss of 14 yards to force a punt.
On the very first play of the next Seahawks possession, Ridgeway ripped through the Seahawks’ line and body-slammed McGough to the turf for another sack. Shortly after the second sack, Ridgeway burst through the line again but was unable to get to McGough in time.
Although he already had two sacks to his name on the evening, it’s that missed opportunity for sack No. 3 that will be Ridgeway’s point of emphasis as he looks back at his 2018 debut.
“I missed one sack, so I’m a little disappointed with myself for that one,” Ridgeway said. “I should have got that last one. I just slipped off. I couldn’t hold on. I’ve got to make sure I hold on next time.”
Although the Colts’ youth and obvious adjustments to a scheme change on defense were evident at times, there was plenty to be happy about for a first preseason game.
Reich was overall pleased with the defensive effort in his team’s preseason opener.
“Defensively, I just like the speed we played with,” Reich said.”Even when they moved the ball, you could see guys just pursuing. We came up with the big plays. Nate (Hairston) came up with that huge play, so there were some really good signs on defense.”
Missing players who would have started or likely played early in the game certainly affected things as well, but the Colts’ coaches will have some teachable moments to key on as well as some kudos to hand out when they get to the film.