INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – What caught our eye in the Indianapolis Colts’ 24-16 loss to the Buffalo Bills Thursday night at New Era Field in Orchard Park, N.Y.:
False start: There was an overriding reason for the unproductive start by the Colts’ offense – seven starters didn’t step on the field. That included quarterback Andrew Luck (calf), running back Marlon Mack (coach’s decision), left tackle Anthony Castonzo (coach’s decision), center Ryan Kelly (shoulder), wideout T.Y. Hilton (coach’s decision) and tight ends Eric Ebron (coach’s decision) and Jack Doyle (oblique).
But that shouldn’t excuse the overall futility. Backup QB Jacoby Brissett directed three drives that consisted of 11 plays, 22 yards and one first down. There was no semblance of continuity, in large part because the Colts couldn’t get their running game going. The trend was set on the game’s first play when Nyheim Hines was smothered for a 7-yard loss. On the three drives, Indy ran six times for a minus-4 yards on first and second down.
“We couldn’t run the ball at all,’’ Reich said in his post-game press conference. “Yeah, we were vanilla . . . shouldn’t matter in the run game. We know this is a very good run defense . . . but that was disappointing.’’
The first-half yield on the ground: 16 yards on 10 carries. Jonathan Williams finally injected a level of life into the ground game with 15 yards on four carries.
For the game, Colts’ running backs rushed 23 times for 52 yards.
And let’s not give the passing game a pass, no pun intended. Brissett and Phillip Walker combined to complete 7-of-18 passes for 77 yards, with Walker suffering a big interception in the second quarter. Pass protection was spotty, but Brissett and Walker were off target on too many attempts.
Offensive bright spots: A pair of receivers enjoyed important returns to the playing field. Deon Cain, who had his rookie season end with a torn ACL in the 2018 preseason opener at Seattle, had two catches for 15 yards on four targets. Marcus Johnson, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury in week 6 against the New York Jets, had two receptions for 27 yards on six targets.
Each is part of a congested receivers room, and should see plenty of work during preseason games. The coaching staff is especially high on Cain, a 2018 sixth-round pick. The opportunity to get back on the field and regain full confidence in his surgically-repaired left knee was huge.
In the second half, Reece Fountain gave the coaching staff even more to consider. A 2018 fifth-round pick, he had five catches for 63 yards, including a nifty, leaping 26-yarder against tight coverage in the fourth quarter.
Thumbs up for D: Reich liked what he saw from his defense.
“Defensively caused a couple of turnovers. That was good. Overall the defense played well,’’ he said.
Reich specifically was referring to the first half, but his comments carried start-to-finish credence.
End Carroll Phillips might figure into coordinator Matt Eberflus’ pass-rush package. He got to starter Josh Allen for an early sack – he stayed home on the edge and buried Allen for a 10-yard loss – and added another in the third quarter against No. 3 QB Tyree Jackson. Phillips also chased down a botched center snap and recovered it at the Buffalo 40-yard line.
Rookie linebacker E.J. Speed is in the midst of a strong camp, and that carried over to New Era Field. His lateral quickness and aggressiveness were on display with a team-best six tackles, including five solos.
Al-Quadin Muhammad was credited with a first-half sack, even though Tyquan Lewis could have lobbied for an assist. Also, Kemoko Turay offered decent pressure on several plays.
Jalen Collins, who’s battling for a roster spot at cornerback, helped his cause by prying the football loose from running back T.J. Yeldon. Safety George Odom recovered.
Backup plans: It was worth paying attention to which players stepped into the starting lineup with so many front-liners held out of the game.
On the offensive line, Le’Raven Clark replaced Castonzo at left tackle and Josh Andrews filled in for Kelly at center. It didn’t appear Clark did much to ease anyone’s concerns he could play significant reps if Castonzo misses time.
We mentioned Williams earlier, and we’ll mention him again. Mack is the feature back for Reich and coordinator Nick Sirianni, but someone has to offer reliable relief. The 6-0, 217-pounder finished with 24 yards on eight carries, and added 33 yards on a team-high five receptions.
Hometown heroics: Chad Kelly remains the longest of longshots to stick when rosters are cut to 53. Carrying a third QB just stresses other positions, and he would have to leapfrog Walker.
But for one night – a return to his hometown, no less – Kelly was on his game. Despite facing relentless pressure in the pocket, he completed 13-of-19 passes for 121 yards. He undoubtedly ignited family and friends in the stands with his mobility. Kelly took a zone-read around left end and outran the Bills defense for a 33-yard touchdown. He had 53 yards on four carries.
“I was happy for Chad, coming home to Buffalo,’’ Reich said. “It was nice that he played well and did some good things in the second half.’’
Scoreboard watching: Veteran Adam Vinatieri didn’t play, and it’s uncertain if that was due to a coach’s decision or an injury.
That gave Cole Hedlund a chance to compile important video. The rookie kicker out of North Texas did everything asked of him with 42-, 44- and 25-yard field goals.
Not tonight: Along with the seven offensive starters who didn’t play, several other prominent Colts were held out – defensive ends Justin Houston (coach’s decision), Jabaal Sheard (knee) and Ben Banogu (hamstring), linebacker Darius Leonard (coach’s decision), defensive tackle Denico Autry (coach’s decision), wideout Parris Campbell (hamstring), safety Clayton Geathers (coach’s decision), running back Jordan Wilkins (undisclosed injury) and Vinatieri.
Medical update: Guard Ian Silberman was taken to a local hospital for precautionary reasons after experiencing abdominal issues before the game.
“He’s OK,’’ Reich said. “He will be flying back with us.’’