The Colts' plan was always to get their starters – on offense and defense – an appropriate amount of work in Saturday night's preseason finale against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Maybe it'd be over the course of the first half, or maybe head coach Frank Reich would feel like his team hit that point sooner.
It turned out it was sooner.
After 13 snaps, Reich got quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr., wide receiver Parris Campbell, left tackle Matt Pryor, left guard Quenton Nelson, center Danny Pinter, right tackle Braden Smith and tight end Mo Alie-Cox out of the game, which the Colts went on to win, 27-10. Rookie wide receiver Alec Pierce played eight snaps, none after the first-team offense traded helmets for baseball caps.
The Colts got in the work they needed as an offense, then got out of the game with an eye on the season opener Sept. 11 – in just two short weeks – against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium.
"I feel like when we look back on the preseason from OTAs to training camp to the preseason games," Reich said, "I feel like we've accomplished, checked the boxes that we want to check, got some confidence going into the season."
Reich has made the analogy of the Colts' offseason being like updating versions of software – it started at 1.0 when the offseason program began way back in April and has been working toward 2.0, 3.0, 4.0, etc. for the last four and a half months. Saturday night, then, was one final opportunity to beta test the product before launching it in a couple weeks.
For Ryan, those 13 snaps provided an opportunity to continue to hone the operation of the Colts' offense, from hearing Reich's playcall in his helmet to disseminating it to his teammates while getting everyone lined up quickly.
And, too, there's a different intensity for a quarterback when not wearing a red "don't even think about coming close to hitting this guy" jersey.
"Being out there, there's noise, there's moving parts and you kind of have Frank calling plays in your ear, to me that's the stuff that I find value out of this time of the year and then also feeling the pass rush around you," Ryan said. "I think from a quarterback standpoint, the work we get in practice is great but you can't replicate being hit and them actually getting on you.
"And no matter how long you played, settling yourself down into that is important. Oddly enough I think getting hit once or twice tonight was probably a good thing."
Ryan was sacked once – Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David hit home on a blitz – which Reich wasn't thrilled with, but Ryan did feel was beneficial in a sense. He completed five of seven passes 59 yards and picked up 11 yards on a scramble; on a five-play, 48-yard touchdown drive, Ryan completed a 26-yard screen pass to running back Deon Jackson, then found Pittman on consecutive plays for four and 17 yards to set up a one-yard plunge by Jackson for a score.
"That kind of felt like what we do," Reich said. "Screen, play-action, run the ball."
Ryan ended the preseason having played 33 snaps over two games. He completed 11 of 17 passes for 117 yards, but don't worry too much about the results – the Colts held back a lot of their core concepts (and core players, like running back Jonathan Taylor and, Saturday, running back Nyheim Hines).
Smoothing out the operation of the offense was important in August, and Ryan and his teammates felt positively about the work they put in to get the operation ready to go for Week 1. And so as the Colts officially leave the preseason behind next week, they'll do so feeling good about what they accomplished over the last few days, weeks and months.
"The time you're on the field, particularly — new play caller, new quarterback, new guy calling it, different pieces in the huddle — I think it's important to get that time on the field from an operation standpoint," Ryan said. "And for me, I feel good about where we're at and the operation that we had in the two times we were able to do it in Buffalo and here tonight. I think that's going to help me moving forward."