INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts improved their 2018 preseason record to 2-1 on Saturday with their 23-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers at Lucas Oil Stadium.
In a game considered the final "dress rehearsal" for the regular season, the Colts' starters, for the most part, outperformed their counterparts from the west, and although it wasn't a picture-perfect last hurrah for the starters as they head into the regular season by any means, head coach Frank Reich was satisfied nonetheless.
"The offense got to be efficient. I think we had that tonight," Reich said. "Defense is continuing to build, I feel good about that."
Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Saturday's game against the 49ers:
• A LITTLE RHYTHM: The Colts' starting offensive unit was coming off a disappointing five series in its second preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens last Monday night, and knew it only had one more chance to establish any sort of momentum heading into the regular season. Saturday's game against the 49ers started almost exactly the same as that Ravens game, however, as quarterback Andrew Luck was brought down on third down in yet another three-and-out. But the Indy offense was able to get it going a bit after that, culminating in its first touchdown of the preseason on what would be its final drive — a 15-yard strike from Luck to tight end Eric Ebron that gave the Colts a 7-6 lead with 8:47 left in the second quarter. Reich has already acknowledged that his starters will not play in Thursday night's preseason finale against the Cincinnati Bengals, so the next time we see this Colts offense will be Sept. 9 in the regular season opener (also against the Bengals), when the expectation is the playbook will start to be opened up significantly.
• BEND, BUT…: The Colts' first-team defense, meanwhile, had a similar goal against the 49ers: put in some quality work and head into the regular season with some positive momentum. How'd it play out? Well, the Indianapolis first-unit defense played one drive into the third quarter, and, in all, allowed just six points total. In general, that's doing more than enough to give your offense a chance to jump out to a decent lead and win the game. That said, there are going to be plenty of points of emphasis for defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus to go over with his players when they return on Monday. Alfred Morris, the 49ers' starting running back on Saturday, had no issues whatsoever during his time on the field, gashing the Colts with 17 carries for 84 yards (4.9 yards per carry). Indianapolis also seemed to have trouble generating pressure on starting 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo; the stat sheet will show Garoppolo was sacked once by linebacker Skai Moore, but Moore just happened to be the nearest player to the quarterback when he stepped out of bounds short of the line of scrimmage. Beyond that: no QB sacks or hits. Again, though, the final result — limiting the opposing offense on the scoreboard — is what matters, but there are plenty of teachable moments heading into the season opener.
• HE'S BACK, BACK: After missing the entire 2017 season as his throwing shoulder continued to recover from offseason surgery, there were understandable outside questions about Luck's progress as he headed into this year's offseason workout program. But with a solid plan in place, Luck continued to check off the boxes in his workouts, slowly working his way up from weighted balls early in the year to regulation-sized footballs by June. Deemed ready to go for a full workload for training camp, Luck checked off more boxes and showed multiple flashes of the MVP-caliber quarterback he was prior to his surgery. But doing it in preseason games — where he didn't have the luxury of a red "no-contact" jersey — would really be the only true way he could know where he was in his progress. Now that his preseason action is over after three games, Luck feels very confident he's ready to go for the 2018 opener against the Bengals. His preseason stats — 20-of-32 completions for 204 yards with one touchdown and one interception — are fine, but he ran the (watered-down) offense, took on some hits and continues to feel like he's getting better every day. That's about all he, and the team, could've asked for heading into the regular season.
• FRESH PRINCE OF DELAIRE: About two weeks ago, Ryan Delaire was working as a personal trainer, just waiting to get a call — any call — from an NFL team in need of some defensive help off the edge. On Aug. 11 — more than halfway through training camp — the Colts became that team, bringing Delaire in for a quick tryout before signing him and immediately putting him out on the practice field. Delaire has proven to be a menace since that time, consistently working his way to the quarterback and even picking off a pass during practices, and that's carried over into games. On Saturday, Delaire registered two sacks, forced a fumble and recovered another one, ultimately helping the Colts earn the win in the second half. The coaching staff has stressed the desire to be deep along the defensive line, so players can stay fresh and attack opposing offenses in waves, and Delaire could very well be a part of that equation come Week 1 of the regular season if he can continue to impress over the next week or so.
• HOLD YOUR BREATH: There's objective No. 1 and objective No. 1-A when it comes to the preseason. They are: get in some good work against NFL competition to prepare for the regular season, and, just as importantly, stay healthy. Other than a season-ending knee injury suffered by rookie wide receiver Deon Cain in the opener against the Seattle Seahawks, the Colts have been relatively fortunate when it comes to injuries suffered this preseason; yes, there have been some pulls, bumps and bruises that could possibly linger into the start of the regular season, but not a ton of devastating injuries to key pieces. But Saturday's game against the 49ers did see some potential starters or key backups exit the game with injuries that the Colts are hoping aren't too serious. Denzelle Good, playing in his first game action of 2018 after suffering a hamstring injury during training camp, went down with a knee injury; Good is in contention for the starting job at right tackle. John Simon, a candidate to start at defensive end, left the game with a neck injury; Simon was limited to just nine games last season due to a neck injury. Key backups at the safety position — T.J. Green (hamstring) and Ronald Martin (shoulder) — also did not return against the 49ers. We're hoping to hear more today from Reich about the severity of these injuries.