INDIANAPOLIS — It's football in its simplest form: can you beat the man across from you?
For Indianapolis Colts head coach Frank Reich, that's what will be top of mind over team's final two preseason games. While he's already ruled out the starters for Saturday's third preseason contest against the Chicago Bears — and starters don't generally play in the final preseason game, anyway — these next six days will provide the rest of the 90-man roster a prime opportunity to make a final case for a spot on Indy's Week 1 roster.
"This game will be big as far as the final evaluations as far as the roster is concerned — you know, this game and the next game," Reich told Colts.com about Saturday's Bears game, as well as Thursday's preseason finale on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals. "So we just want to see good football. The gameplans will be real simple so that we can just go out there and see these one-on-one battles, and just be a good decision maker, be disciplined and then win your one-on-one battles."
That's the same general formula the Colts have used the first two preseason games against the Buffalo Bills and the Cleveland Browns. On offense, Reich has been dialing up "vanilla" playcalls: one, so he's not revealing too much of his actual playbook; and two, to give his players the best chance to show how well they've mastered the basics.
Defensively, Reich said the plan has been real simple, as well. In fact, the Colts have logged five combined sacks, eight quarterback hits and 34 total pressures in two preseason games without utilizing a single blitz.
So while the Colts' coaches want the preseason games to naturally bring about various situations for the offensive and defensive units to work through, the individual evaluations are most important.
"I think each (game) is an individual microscope on that particular player," defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. "I think that is what you do, you look at each guy and say, 'Hey, you need to get better at X. You need to get better at Z.' I think it is individualized."
The younger players on the Colts' roster are looking forward to the chance to embrace these prime opportunities.
"I feel like we all have the same mindset: we're all trying to compete for jobs, trying to compete to be on the roster, compete for depth chart positions and trying to compete for playing time," rookie cornerback Rock Ya-Sin said this week. "We're all just trying to compete. Everybody has the same mentality and mindset around here, I feel like — all 90 men on this roster."
More on sitting starters
Reich announced on Wednesday that he'd be sitting most of his starters for Saturday's game against the Bears, which goes against the traditional line of thinking for NFL preseason games, in which your No. 1 units work their way up; they play a series or two the first game, play about a quarter or more in the second game and then play about a half in the third game before sitting out the final week to begin preparations for the regular season opener.
But sitting starters in the preseason — no matter what week it is — is becoming much more common across the league. In fact, when Reich learned from Bears head coach Matt Nagy earlier this week that he wasn't going to be playing his starters on Saturday, that was really the final bit of information Reich needed to make his decision.
Reich is a traditional coach in many ways, but he said sitting his starters on Saturday "wasn't a difficult call in this case."
"They were only going to play a really short amount of time," Reich said of his original plan for his starters in Saturday's game. "Typically we might play them a quarter, but given all the work that we've had I was feeling like it was even going to be a little bit less than a quarter. So I was thinking eight, 10 plays.
"And then just looking at it, I feel good about the health of our team, and it was like, 'For eight or ten plays, is it really worth subjecting these guys to injury?'" he continued. "So it was, 'Hey, let's do the smart thing.' And then I find out that the Bears aren't playing their guys, and it just further sealed that decision."
Reich reiterated his stance that he feels comfortable with fewer preseason reps for his starters because of all the fast-paced situational work they get during practice.
"I've got to believe we do as much situational work as any team in the NFL," Reich said. "We really try to put our guys in a lot of game-type situations — third down, red zone, two minute and all the little odd plays that come up in the course of a year over games. So those are the things that we drill over and over again to give us confidence (once) we get in the game."
The Indianapolis Colts defense takes the practice field as they continue to prepare for the 2019 season at Indians Farm Bureau Football Center.