What to watch for: Previewing the Colts vs. Eagles preseason game

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Andrew Luck (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Worth watching when the Indianapolis Colts meet the Philadelphia Eagles Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Kickoff: 7 p.m.

Telecast: CBS4Indy

Livestream: FOX59.com

Who’s up for some D?:

The third preseason game – we’re totally discounting the cancelled Hall of Fame Game, thank you very much – traditionally is when a team gets a realistic gauge on its preparedness for the regular season. It’s common for front-line players to play the first half, regroup in the locker room and play the first series of the third quarter.

That’s likely the plan for Andrew Luck and a good portion of the offense. It’s not even an option for defensive coordinator Ted Monachino. He’ll have to deal with Eagles QB Sam Bradford without seven front-line players. Two – linebacker Robert Mathis and cornerback Antonio Cromartie are fine, and the coaching staff wants to keep it that way – but injuries will rob him of another six others: corners Vontae Davis (ankle) and Patrick Robinson (groin), defensive linemen Kendall Langford (knee) and Henry Anderson (knee), linebacker Sio Moore (hamstring) and safety Clayton Geathers (foot).

Monachino conceded the injuries are forcing him to adjust his defensive approach. It’s beyond risky to order the corners to play press coverage when they’re still adapting to the NFL. Of the six healthy corners Saturday, four are rookies: Frankie Williams, Chris Milton, Darius White and Winston Rose. A fifth, Tay Glover-Wright, has two appearances on his resume.

Fans are advised to temper their anxiety if the defense appears outmanned, because it probably will be.

Final tune-up:

As we mentioned, Luck and much of his supporting cast should anticipate a decent night’s work. And this is the portion of the game that needs to reassure everyone that the offense will be up to the task of carrying the team until so many of the defensive difference-makers return.

All we’re asking for is a handful of sustained drives. Maybe a couple of touchdowns and a field goal. Convert third downs. Avoid crippling penalties. Finish when you reach the red zone.

Luck was crisp against Baltimore – 8-for-8, 71 yards – as coordinator Rod Chudzinski’s game plan primarily focused on getting the ball out of his hands in a timely fashion. That’s never a bad idea, but let’s see an occasional shot down the field as long as Luck’s protection holds up.

One area to watch is right tackle. If a back injury sidelines Joe Reitz, rookie Le’Raven Clark will start. The third-round pick was inconsistent during training camp and failed on a block against the Ravens that resulted in Scott Tolzien getting leveled. That won’t be tolerated, even for a player in his formative stages.

Backup(s) plan:

We might get a glimpse of Frank Gore, although we saw enough last week (three plays, one carry for 5 yards). What we need to see is who’s in line to be his supporting cast.

Chuck Pagano reiterated this week the team’s commitment to not overworking its 33-year-old running back this season. Lest anyone’s forgotten, Gore logged 260 carries in ’15, fifth-most in the league.

“We have to be very, very smart to make sure that we have him available for 16 games . . . and he’s healthy and he’s fresh and he’s out there with our guys and humming,’’ Pagano said. “We have a number (of carries) in mind and we are going to try to go our very best to stick with that number.’’

That’s understandable and a great plan. But for it work, there must be an adequate backup, and third option. Robert Turbin and Jordan Todman are the likely prospects. After a ton of hype from training camp, rookie Josh Ferguson has faded a bit and hasn’t helped himself with subpar blitz pickup.

With Gore likely to see limited time against the Eagles, it would behoove Turbin or Todman – someone – to represent a legitimate rushing threat. It’s been difficult for anyone to gain traction thus far behind a mishmash offensive line: backs have combined for 66 yards on 38 carries. But against Philly, the starting O-line should see extensive action.

“Somebody has to start to emerge,’’ Pagano said. “We have to figure out who is going to be the two, three, third-down back, all those kinds of things.’’

Steppin’ up:

This is yet another chance for someone to show he can win one-on-one matchups and pressure the QB. Are you listening Curt Maggitt, Ron Thompson, Earl Okine and Trevor Bates?

And this is yet another chance for someone to show he’s worthy of being the depth at receiver behind T.Y. Hilton, Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett. Are you listening Chester Rogers, Tevaun Smith and Quan Bray? We’ve seen flashes from each, but this undoubtedly will be a numbers game when rosters are cut to 53 Sept. 3. The Colts probably will carry five receivers. Rogers, Smith and Bray are fighting for two spots, and that final spot might hinge on how much the coaching staff values Bray’s return skills.

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