After seven long months, the Indianapolis Colts got back on the football field on Saturday afternoon in a game setting.
They traveled east to take on the Buffalo Bills and left with a 27-24 loss. Wins and losses in the preseason are inconsequential, so it's all about evaluating things on a more micro level.
The Colts' starters played throughout the first quarter, including new additions like quarterback Matt Ryan, wide receiver Alec Pierce, defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, and more.
Here are some of my main observations from Saturday.
—Matt Ryan, new Colts offense make their debut. Ryan and the first-team offense got four drives on the day. They were only able to score three points and didn't establish much of a rhythm but it's important to remember that this is not what the offense is actually going to look like when the regular season begins. Besides All-Pro running back Jonathan Taylor not playing, the biggest thing is that the scheme is incredibly basic right now. When the Colts have their 53 rostered players entering the season, we'll see things get more complex.
—Michael Pittman Jr. with opportunities to run. Pittman only had 2 catches on the day for 30 yards (15.0 avg.) but both of them were a great example of what you should expect to see this season. Ryan dumped it off to him over the middle of the field under duress, and he caught a little bubble screen next, both of which show he'll be getting opportunities for catch-and-run situations, particularly over the middle.
—Phillip Lindsay is terrific insurance. The Colts' running game looks to be in as good of shape as it could possibly be going into the season. RB3 Lindsay is arguably the most accomplished depth running back in the NFL after starting his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He looked effective on Saturday, rushing 5 times for 24 yards (4.8 avg.) along with 2 receptions for 9 yards (4.5 avg.).
—Nick Foles rebounds. The Colts haven't had a backup quarterback of Foles' stature in quite some time but he got off to a very rough start against the Bills. His first two drives resulted in a sack-fumble that was returned for a 69-yard touchdown, and then an interception on an overthrow. However, on his next drive, Foles took the offense down the field in nine plays, 64 yards for a touchdown to put the Colts back ahead, 10-7.
—So that's Kylen Granson. Granson was a hyped rookie in 2021 despite being a fourth-round pick but he was incognito in his debut season, catching just 11 balls for 106 yards (9.6 avg.) and not being able to show much of the athletic gifts that made him a promising draft pick. However, we saw some flashes in Buffalo as he caught 2 passes for 29 yards (14.5 avg.), displaying his run-after-catch ability. He was able to get separation in his routes, showing speed before and after the catch.
—Frank Reich stays aggressive in the preseason. Colts head coach Frank Reich already has a reputation for being aggressive and going for it on fourth downs, and he continued that on Saturday, going for it four times (converting twice). In the preseason, it's more important to get guys the chance for more reps on offense rather than punt, and Reich knows that.
—Defense holds strong after shaky start. The Colts' starting defense got gashed on the opening drive as Buffalo's backup offense marched 69 yards downfield in six plays, including two plays of 25-plus yards. However, the defense settled in and shut the Bills' offense out in the following four plays, forcing a turnover on downs. Buffalo wouldn't score their first points until midway through the second quarter, and the Colts would force an incredible five turnovers on the day.
—New defense is still full of thieves. Under former defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, the Colts' defense was one of the NFL's most dangerous units when it came to takeaways. In 2021, they finished second with 33. Eberflus is now the Chicago Bears' head coach but the Colts don't seem to be lacking sticky hands under new coordinator Gus Bradley. The Colts registered five takeaways against the Bills, including three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. They had three takeaways in the first 20 minutes alone. The first two turnovers were made by starting defenders as safety Rodney McLeod intercepted quarterback Case Keenum off of a tipped pass, and linebacker Bobby Okereke and safety Julian Blackmon teamed up to knock the ball out of Bills receiver Jake Kumerow's grasp, which was recovered by cornerback Isaiah Rodgers. Rodgers would later have an interception off of Keenum. Not going down as an official takeaway was cornerback Dallis Flowers' interception on a two-point attempt by Buffalo.
—Depth pass rushers turn up. Behind starting defensive ends Ngakoue and Kwity Paye, rotational players Ben Banogu, Dayo Odeyingbo, Ifeadi Odenigbo, and Kameron Cline had a great game as a group. Banogu and Cline were each credited with a sack, but the group put consistent pressure on quarterbacks Keenum and Matt Barkley throughout the game. The pass rush has been a sore spot for the Colts' defense in recent years but it's something that Bradley is determined to fix.
—Rookie debuts. Overall, it was a positive day for the Colts' rookie class. Pierce caught 2 passes for 27 yards (13.5 avg.). Safety Nick Cross had a couple of tight coverage plays and 3 tackles. Tight end Jelani Woods caught 2 balls for 22 yards (11.0 avg.) and 1 touchdown. Defensive tackles Eric Johnson II and Curtis Brooks played extensively, and Brooks was heavily involved with backfield pressures and a fumble recovery. Tight end Drew Ogletree had a catch for 5 yards and a touchdown called back by penalty. Offensive tackle Bernhard Raimann, linebackers JoJo Domann and Sterling Weatherford (had an interception), and cornerback Dallis Flowers all played quite a bit. Running back D'Vonte Price had 15 yards on 2 touches and a two-point run.
—Eliminate the mental mistakes. We've seen dropped passes and other mental mistakes plague the offense for the last week in practice, and while some of that was cleaned up on Saturday, there were a lot of penalties. The Colts had 9 (67 yards) on the day while the Bills had 11 (90 yards). That's to be expected in the preseason but it's still something that can be cleaned up.
What were your biggest takeaways from Saturday? Drop your thoughts below in the comment section!