SEATTLE — The Indianapolis Colts opened up their 2018 preseason schedule with a 19-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks Thursday evening at CenturyLink Field.
The game was notable for a couple primary reasons other than the normal storylines that simply go with preseason openers each year: it was the debut of new Colts head coach Frank Reich, and quarterback Andrew Luck, who missed the entire 2017 season after undergoing shoulder surgery, was able to take the field with his teammates for the first time since the 2016 regular season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
For Reich, the game was, in most respects, a typical first preseason games. He liked a lot of what he saw, while he also noted several teaching points he'll be going over with his players when they return to Westfield, Ind., for the remainder of training camp on Saturday.
But, most of all, Reich was satisfied that his team found a way to fly out of Seattle with a victory.
"We talk about toughness or relentless pursuit to get better, an obsession to finish. I think we got better in a lot ways," Reich told reporters after the game. "I'm really happy with the way we finished. We talked about whether it's a individual period or practice, in preseason, you want to finish. We play to win, so it's good to win the game."
Here are the FIVE THINGS LEARNED from Thursday's game against the Seahawks:
• No. 12 IS BACK: Not that anyone was counting, but Thursday's preseason opener represented the first time Luck had been able to play in an NFL game in 585 days. While he had hoped to return to the field at some point last season, it just didn't come to fruition, despite his efforts and the efforts of those around him, so he refocused on a much more intense rehab regimen towards the end of last year to ensure his return for 2018. After looking solid during the first couple weeks of training camp, Luck carried that over to the field against the Seahawks, completing 6-of-9 passes for 64 yards and leading the No. 1 offense on two scoring drives, both of which ending in Adam Vinatieri field goals. Perhaps most importantly, however, Luck was also able to get hit a couple times — once on a scramble, and the other time on a sack — and both times he popped right back up. It's been a roller coaster ride for Luck since January 2017, but Thursday night was nothing but more indications that he's getting back to the high-level player that he was prior to his surgery.
• FIRST LOOK AT THE NEW DEFENSE: Another major storyline this offseason was the Colts' transition from a 3-4 base defense to a 4-3 alignment under new defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus. For several players returning from last year's team, it signaled, at the very least, a change in their overall approach — and for some players, like the returning outside linebackers from 2017, it meant a complete position change over to defensive end. On Thursday night, we saw a young first defensive unit still finding its way a little bit early on, which is the same pattern we've seen at times during training camp. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was able to have his way early on, leading the Seahawks on a 12-play touchdown drive to open things up. And it seemed as if backup quarterback Austin Davis was going to do the same thing on Seattle's next drive — getting all the way to the Indianapolis 5-yard line — before cornerback Nate Hairston picked off an ill-advised pass in the end zone. From there, the Colts' defense seemed to settle down a bit, and we saw some of the speed and swarming abilities that Eberflus has been wanting. In all, Indy registered four total sacks, seven tackles for loss, three passes defensed and that aforementioned takeaway from Hairston; that's not bad production overall for a first preseason game.
• WILKINS HAS THE VISION: The main attribute touted by Colts general manager Chris Ballard about Jordan Wilkins after the team selected the running back in the fifth round of the 2018 NFL Draft was the Ole Miss product's vision. Ballard isn't one to attach major comparisons on young players, but he couldn't help but see a little bit of former Chicago Bears standout back Matt Forte when he watched Wilkins' college tape. That certainly showed up Thursday night in Seattle, as Wilkins had multiple runs where he either was patient and hit the right hole at the right time, or he simply bowed his neck and got crucial positive yards when needed to close out the game. His final stat line — six carries for 21 yards — doesn't quite tell the whole story here, and while the Colts are moving forward with a running back by committee system that will involve the likes of Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines and Robert Turbin, among others, it's obvious that Wilkins has the skillset to earn several carries a game.
• RIDGEWAY TAKES OVER: A good chunk of the Colts' defense's solid play in the second half of Thursday night's game can be credited to third-year defensive tackle Hassan Ridgeway, who had two big sacks and another tackle for loss in the final two quarters. He was very close to even securing a third sack on the night, but was just unable to corral the quarterback to the ground during the play. Reich talked after the game about how Ridgeway has really popped at training camp in the last week or so, and he was able to carry that over to a game setting against the Seahawks. Reich and Eberflus have to be encouraged by the fact that they have experienced players like Ridgeway who can form the solid depth along the defensive front that this unit will need to keep guys fresh throughout a game — and throughout the season.
• SOME THINGS TO CLEAN UP: There were several positives for the Colts on Thursday, and, like any other preseason opener, there were some items that must be cleaned up for next time. On offense, with starting left tackle Anthony Castonzo and top swing tackle Denzelle Good each dealing with hamstring injuries, the Indy offensive line struggled at times to contain the Seahawks' outside defensive pressure, allowing three sacks on the night. Then, in the fourth quarter, there were three straight botched snaps between center Mark Glowinski and quarterback Brad Kaaya, the last of which resulted in a defensive touchdown for Seattle. On defense, Wilson was able to at times pick apart the Colts' secondary, exploding spots in various zones and marching his offense straight down the field to score a touchdown on their opening drive. Then, safety Shamarko Thomas was ejected for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Seahawks wide receiver David Moore, becoming the first NFL player to be disqualified from a game for a helmet-to-helmet infraction under the league's new rules. And on special teams, Hines struggled a bit on two straight punt plays; on one, he signaled a fair catch, but the ball bounced off the ground, and then off his leg before being downed by teammate Ronald Martin. On the second play, Hines simply muffed catching a punt out of the air; it, too, was recovered by the receiving team. All of these items are fixable, and one can imagine they will be points of emphasis for the Colts' next preseason game Aug. 20 against the Baltimore Ravens at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Indianapolis Colts opened up the 2018 preseason on the road against the Seattle Seahawks.