SEATTLE — The Indianapolis Colts on Thursday evening opened up preseason play with a 19-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.
What’s top of mind for the Colts as they move to 1-0 on the preseason?
In his debut as head coach of the Colts, Frank Reich has plenty of positives to show his team when it returns to Westfield, Ind., for the remainder of training camp — and he also has plenty of teaching points.
For a preseason opener, Reich couldn’t really ask for much more.
There’s the obvious storyline coming out of Thursday night’s game, and that’s the positive return of quarterback Andrew Luck. In his first in-game action since the Colts’ 2016 regular season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars — a span of 585 days — Luck found some success, leading the starting offense on two scoring drives (both Adam Vinatieri field goals).
In all, Luck completed 6-of-9 passes for 64 yards.
"I was excited, I was nervous, and I had butterflies in my stomach," Luck told Colts.com's Caroline Cann in the third quarter of tonight's game. "It's fun. I did not know what this day would feel like. And yes, it's just a preseason game, but it's still a game. And, it was just a lot of fun to be out there with my buddies."
It was difficult not to cringe at the 10:04 mark of the first quarter, when Luck escaped the pocket and scrambled to his left before being taken down by the Seahawks’ Bobby Wagner and Braden Jackson.
After such a rollercoaster recovery and rehab process in his follow up shoulder surgery in January 2017, nobody quite knew what to expect when Luck officially took his first hit in live game action.
So what was the result? Luck popped right back up to his feet with a smile on his face. Nothing to see here.
Then, at the 2:20 mark of the first quarter, Luck was sacked by defensive end Rasheem Green.
Again, not a problem.
So, in many ways, Luck and the first-team offense accomplished most of their goals on the night. While they would’ve definitely liked a touchdown or two, they had two scoring drives, they had one long (12-play) drive, they moved the ball and Luck stayed healthy.
That’s about all you can ask for at this point of the preseason.
PLAY OF THE GAME
One of the most frustrating aspects of the 2017 season for the Colts was their inability to finish games when they had a lead going into halftime, and even going into the fourth quarter.
And while Thursday was a preseason game, you want players on your roster — offseason or not — who can execute plays to put games away.
At the 10:48 mark of the fourth quarter, the Colts led by just two, 12-10. Utilizing a rare I-formation with tight end Darrell Daniels as the up back, quarterback Phillip Walker dropped back and faked a handoff to running back Nyheim Hines on 1st and 10 from the 10-yard line.
With the defense cheating to the left side of the field, Daniels was left wide open out in the flat along the line of scrimmage near the right sideline. Walker hit Daniels in stride, and he did the rest from there, powering his way through two Seahawks defenders for a 10-yard touchdown reception — Indy’s only TD on the night.
Up 19-10, the Colts had enough cushion to allow for a major blooper later in the fourth quarter, when a botched snap led to a defensive score for Seattle that ultimately was the final points in Indy’s 19-17 victory.
Walker, by the way, was able to take advantage of some Seattle penalties and some lucky breaks of his own to have a solid night — he completed 5-of-8 passes for 88 yards and a touchdown for a final QB rating of 139.6.
In their new 4-3 defensive scheme, the Colts want defensive linemen that attack the opposing quarterback in waves.
But Hassan Ridgeway decided to do that all by himself in the second half of Thursday’s game.
The third-year Texas product had two big sacks, which, combined, led to a total loss of 21 yards for the Seahawks’ offense.
Ridgeway, a fourth-round pick by the Colts back in 2016, has competed in 29 career games with six starts, and compiled 35 tackles (five for a loss), 4.5 sacks and one pass defensed. Now, he hopes to continue to contribute as a key piece of depth for a revamped Indy defensive line that will pride itself on hustle and effort.
Oh, and wrestling the opposing quarterback to the ground like Ridgeway did on Thursday doesn’t hurt, either.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
• As mentioned before, the first-team offense, led by Luck, was able to check off a lot of boxes. Reich had hoped to play the unit about a quarter in the preseason opener, and due to the circumstances, it actually played a little bit into the second quarter — which is perfectly fine. Now the goal is to find a way to punch the ball into the end zone in what will be even more reps Aug. 20 against the Baltimore Ravens.
• The Indy run game had a couple chunk plays on the night; Robert Turbin had a rush for 13 yards, while Christine Michael added an 11-yard run. Rookie Jordan Wilkins, meanwhile, showed off his vision to convert tough first downs on multiple occasions. It sounds simple to say, but the run game is so important to what Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni want to do with this offense, and being able to break free for a few big runs here and there will really open up the rest of the playbook once the regular season comes around.
• The Colts’ defense had a major bend-but-don’t-break moment once Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had exited the game and he was replaced by backup Austin Davis. Davis marched the Seattle offense right down to the Indianapolis 5-yard line midway through the second quarter — that was until Nate Hairston stepped in and made a big play. Hairston picked off an ill-advised Davis pass in the end zone intended for wide receiver Keenan Reynolds. The frustrating part for the Colts is that their offense was unable to do anything with the gift, but anytime your defense can create takeaways, especially in its own end zone, you’ll take it.
WHAT WENT WRONG
• Hines is projected to be a major playmaker all over the field for the Colts, but he struggled Thursday as a punt returner, particularly in the fourth quarter. He muffed one punt that he had signaled a fair catch for at the 14:54 mark of the period, but fortunately for him, teammate Ronald Martin was right there to fall on the ball at the Indianapolis 37-yard line. Then, on his next opportunity, Hines muffed another punted ball — this time on a ball kicked to him in the air. He was able to recover that one, too, at his own 32-yard line, but he has his work cut out for him, nonetheless.
• The NFL this offseason passed much more stringent helmet-to-helmet-related penalties in an effort to improve player safety, and we saw a major milestone in this effort at the Colts’ expense on Thursday. Safety Shamarko Thomas delivered a big helmet-to-helmet hit on wide receiver David Moore on an incomplete pass in the fourth quarter, and Thomas was not only penalized for the play — he was ejected from the game. He becomes the first NFL player to be disqualified from a game under these new rules. Again, it’s the first preseason game, but this is a major teaching point for defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus.
• The Colts entered Thursday’s game without their starting left tackle (Anthony Castonzo) and their top swing tackle (Denzelle Good), and it showed, as the Seahawks would register three sacks on the night, all of which seemed to be caused due to pressure coming from the outside. Both Castonzo and Good are dealing with nagging hamstring injuries, and while one can imagine the team doesn’t want to rush either guy back, especially in the preseason, the remaining guys being tasked with filling in have their work cut out for them.
• In the fourth quarter, the Indy offense had a series in which center Mark Glowinski and quarterback Brad Kaaya had a botched snap on three straight plays. Luckily, the Colts were able to recover the football the first two instances, but the third such blunder, Seattle made 'em pay, scoring a defensive touchdown to pull within two, 19-17, on one of those classic "the ball looks like a slippery bar of soap" fumble recovery efforts. These things tend to happen early in the preseason, but that's no excuse for professionals like Glowinski and Kaaya, who will undoubtedly get plenty of work in on this very issue when they return to Westfield.
• Running back Marlon Mack (hamstring), wide receiver James Wright (knee) and wide receiver Deon Cain (knee) all suffered injuries during Thursday’s game and did not return. Look for updates from Reich when he next addresses the media.
The Colts fly back home victorious, and then have a day off on Friday before getting back to the training camp grind at Grand Park Sports Campus on Saturday, when they have a 3:40 p.m. practice. It’s the first of four straight days of practice for Indy, and after an off day on Wednesday and one more session on Thursday, the team welcomes the Baltimore Ravens in for two days of joint practices to wrap up camp. The Colts and Ravens then face off for Week 2 of preseason action on Monday, Aug. 20, in the home opener at Lucas Oil Stadium. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET, and the game is being televised on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.