INDIANAPOLIS – Observations from the Indianapolis Colts’ 12-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings Saturday night at U.S. Bank Stadium:
Ideally, Frank Reich would have a grasp on the pecking order behind the rehabbing Carson Wentz at this point of the preseason. Realistically, he doesn’t. Neither Jacob Eason nor Sam Ehlinger had the type performance against the Vikings to wrap his hands around the backup position. Or the starter’s role if Wentz’s rehab from Aug. 2 surgery on his left foot keeps him out of the Sept. 12 opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
Has he seen enough?
“I’m not sure,’’ Reich said after the game. “I’ve got to look at the film to make that determination, but my hunch is that probably we need to see another week.
“Both guys are . . . showing enough good signs (but) both guys have made mistakes.’’
Ehlinger started against the Vikings after Eason opened against the Carolina Panthers. Reich hasn’t decided the rotation in Friday night’s preseason finale at Detroit.
After that, though, he and Chris Ballard must know what they’re doing at quarterback. Maybe it’s Wentz. If not, it’ll be a QB not only making his first NFL start, but also taking his first snap in a regular-season game.
It’s hard to imagine Ehlinger moving the needle in his favor. While he directed a pair of field goal drives – a 47-yarder by Rodrigo Blankenship and a 31-yarder by Eddy Pineiro – two other drives ended with interceptions.
“Can’t turn the ball over,’’ Reich said in a halftime interview.
That’s three interceptions in two games – and 28 pass attempts – by Ehlinger.
The first against the Vikings came when right guard Mark Glowinski allowed inside pressure and Ehlinger’s pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage. The high delivery to Parris Campbell was deflected by cornerback Bashaud Breeland and intercepted by linebacker Troy Dye, who returned it 33 yards for a touchdown.
Ehlinger’s third interception of the preseason was another deflection. He tried to squeeze a pass to a slanting Ashton Dulin, but cornerback Camryn Bynum broke it up. Nose tackle Jordan Scott grabbed the deflection.
Ehlinger finished 8-of-13 for 70 yards with the two interceptions and a 36.2 passer rating.
“Definitely a different experience,’’ he said. “It was awesome to be out there with some of the starters.
“Great experience, first start, obviously wanted things to go a little bit differently than they way that they did.’’
What of Eason?
Ehlinger provided a low bar for Eason to clear, and Eason spent his early playing time staying below it. His first four series after replacing Ehlinger late in the second quarter: 13 plays, 13 yards, zero first downs, four punts. Eason started 4-of-11 for 13 yards. Too often, he made it too difficult for his receivers to make the catch. Twice, he threw behind rookie tight end Kylen Granson.
“The first half was just pitch and catch,’’ Eason said. “I had guys (open) . . . and I was either either early or late . . . I’ve got to make those throws.
“There were a lot of missed opportunities, some throws I’d like to have back.’’
Eason finally got his act together on his fifth series. He drove the Colts to Pineiro’s 50-yard field goal by completing all five of his passes for 51 yards. The big one was a 28-yard completion to Dezmon Patmon.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Eason directed a 13-play, 69-yard drive that Pineiro finished with a 28-yard field goal and a 12-10 lead. He completed 5-of-8 passes but missed running back Deon Jackson badly on a third-and-3 snap at the Vikings’ 10-yard line.
With time winding down and draining the clock Priority 1, Eason did just enough. After the defense came up with its umpteenth stop of the night, the offense took over at the Indy 5 with 3:45 remaining. It took all but 22 seconds off the clock and one of Eason’s best throws was key; a 14-yard hookup with Patmon on third-and-6.
By night’s end, Eason was 16-of-27 for 132 yards and a 71.8 rating. He clearly got better as the game unfolded.
The expected catalyst for the pass rush made a strong first impression. First-round pick Kwity Paye made his NFL debut after missing last week’s game with Carolina with a sprained ankle and made up for lost time. He notched his first sack when he beat Vikings’ starting left tackle Rashod Hill with an outside speed rush and bear-hugged Kirk Cousins.
“It felt great,’’ Paye said. “It was a good start.’’
Paye unofficially was on the field for 16 snaps, and the Vikings frequently negated his presence with runs and quick passes. But when Cousins took a deeper drop and looked to make a play down the field, Paye ended things.
About that D
Two weeks into the preseason and the defense has taken a couple of authoritative steps forward. And that’s with All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard and cornerback Xavier Rhodes yet to step on the field, and coordinator Matt Eberflus missing both games with COVID-19 issues.
Against the Vikings, the defense allowed just 227 yards on 53 plays, eight first downs and 2-of-13 conversions on third down. Minnesota’s only TD was Dye’s pick-6; the defense yielded only Greg Joseph’s 49-yard field goal.
In two games, the defense has limited the Vikings and Panthers to 5-of-27 on third downs, one TD and five field goals.
Saturday night, the pass rush was a game-long presence. Along with Paye, Al-Quadin Muhammad and Andrew Brown shared a sack. And it was impossible not to notice end Ben Banogu. He was credited for just two tackles, one for a loss and one quarterback hit but spent the evening in the Vikings’ backfield.
About that O-Line
For at least one night, the Colts have to feel somewhat buoyed by Julién Davenport’s viability as a bridge at left tackle until Eric Fisher’s rehab from a torn Achilles is complete. He seemed to hold up all evening.
“I obviously have to look at the film closer,’’ Reich said, “but I felt like he played pretty well.’’
The Vikings had zero sacks and were credited with just three QB hits.
About those Kickers
Perfection continued for Rodrigo Blankenship and Pineiro. Neither has missed during training camp practices, and that has spilled into preseason games.
Blankenship opened Saturday night’s scoring with a 47-yarder, then Pineiro took over and converted 31-, 50- and 28-yard attempts.
Last week against Carolina, Blankenship knocked down a 34-yarder and Pineiro produced the 21-18 win with a 30-yarder midway through the fourth quarter.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.