Colts vs. Ravens: What to watch for in the first preseason home game of the year
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Here’s a look at areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ preseason meeting Monday with the Baltimore Ravens in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Homecoming: Andrew Luck has been checking off boxes during what has been a graduated, calculated training camp. There are more to address, including one Monday evening at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“There’s some situational stuff that is hard to manufacture in practice that a game gives you, right? What’s it like playing at home again?” he said Saturday as camp ended at Grand Park.
Kickoff: 8 p.m.
Yes, it’s been awhile since Colts fans have seen, first hand, Luck on the playing field. In fact, the wait’s been 596 days. His last Lucas Oil Stadium appearance: Jan. 1, 2017, in a 24-20 comeback win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. His last pass in a game that truly mattered: a 1-yard TD to Jack Doyle in the closing seconds to cap the comeback.
The plan, subject to change, is for Luck to play into the second quarter against the Ravens. In the preseason opener at Seattle, he directed two series that involved 19 offensive plays and generated two Adam Vinatieri field goals.
The wild card in Luck’s workload against the Ravens? The Colts still are trying to figure out their offensive tackle situation (more on that later) and Pro Bowl wideout T.Y. Hilton might not play because of a sprained left shoulder.
Luck needs the playing time to further acclimate himself to new faces – most notably Eric Ebron and Ryan Grant – and is eager to push the ball down the field to further show off the strength in his right arm/shoulder, but not if his protection is spotty.
Tackle concerns: Ah, yes, offensive tackle. Frank Reich is giving the impression left tackle Anthony Castonzo’s right hamstring might allow him to play before the preseason ends, but certainly in time for the Sept. 9 opener against Cincinnati. Further complicating matters is a hamstring injury that also is keeping Denzelle Good out of practice.
The result: mixing and matching on what seems to be a daily basis.
The initial plan was for free agent Austin Howard to be the short-term answer at right tackle. That’s why general manager Chris Ballard ponied up a one-year, $3.75 million contract in May. To put it bluntly, Howard was one of the bigger disappointments at camp. His spotty play, and that of free agent J’Marcus Webb, who started against Seattle, has led to the coaching staff turning to rookie Braden Smith. The second-round draft pick, a natural guard, played the entire fourth quarter against the Seahawks at right tackle.
It’s a good bet the starting offensive line against Baltimore will include Smith at right tackle and Le’Raven Clark at left tackle against Baltimore. Howard and Webb probably are slated for backup duties. If they continue to struggle, Joe Haeg might find himself shuffled to one of the tackle spots.
However you look at it, this isn’t a good situation and might impact how Reich and Nick Sirianni dial up plays for Luck.
Defensive improvement? The first impression was less than satisfactory. Coordinator Matt Eberflus’ new 4-3 defense debuted at Seattle and offered little resistance to Russell Wilson. With their starting QB under center, the Seahawks motored 75 yards for a touchdown in 12 plays. The Colts’ defense played much better as the game unfolded, but it’s impossible to ignore the initial struggles.
In fairness, Indy was without starting safeties Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker, inside linebacker Anthony Walker and rookie end Kemoko Turay who might be an opening-day starter. Geathers could see his first action of the preseason against the Ravens, and would bring a physical presence to the back-end of the defense. Turay has flashed pass-rush skills during his brief camp appearances.
It’s one thing to endure a false start at Seattle. It will be another if the defense offers minimal resistance to the Joe Flacco-led Ravens.
Who’s the back? Injuries will keep the top of the running back depth chart out of Monday night’s game. That would be Marlon Mack (hamstring) and Robert Turbin (ankle).
Reich likely will turn to a rookie, either fourth-round pick Nyheim Hines or fifth-rounder Jordan Wilkins. Hines had a forgettable game at Seattle – two bobbled punts – and is determined to put that behind him. Wilkins was one of the camp’s pleasant surprises. He ran with power and decisiveness, and displayed pass-catching skills.
We’d like to see one of the rookies get significant work with the starting offense, just to see how he responds.