INDIANAPOLIS — With NFL preseason in full swing, here is what caught our eye from the Indianapolis Colts’ 27-24 preseason loss Saturday to the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y.
No finishing kick:
Let’s get the inconsequential things out of the way. The Bills won their ninth straight preseason game and snapped the Colts’ four-game win streak by scoring 17 answered points in the final eight minutes behind No. 3 quarterback Matt Barkley. Tyler Bass capped the fourth-quarter comeback by converting a 46-yard field goal as time expired.
If that ruined your evening, that’s on you.
We’ve seen better, and much worse. Matt Ryan’s first snaps as the newest triggerman of the offense consisted of four series, including the first series of the second quarter, and 19 plays. He completed 6-of-10 passes for 58 yards, but was 1-of-4 on third- and fourth-down attempts. It appeared Parris Campbell dropped one of Ryan’s third-down attempts. Ryan generally was decisive with his reads and displayed good pocket presence when his protection suffered leakage.
It was particularly disappointing when the Ryan-led offense – it was the starters minus Jonathan Taylor – had to settle for Rodrigo Blankenship’s 24-yard field goal after Rodney McLeod’s interception gave it a first-and-goal at the Buffalo 10.
Ryan connected with Nyheim Hines for 7 yards to the Bills’ 2 and Hines’ 1-yard run set up a fourth-and-goal at the 1. Reich opted to go for the touchdown, until right tackle Braden Smith was penalized for a false start.
Ryan’s third series stalled at the Bills’ 43 on consecutive incompletions to Campbell and Michael Pittman Jr. The final one featured rookie Alec Pierce’s first reception, but ended on a fourth-and-1 incompletion intended for Pittman.
“It felt good to just get out there and just to hear the operation, a new voice in the headset, be with those guys, communicate at the line of scrimmage. I thought that part was good,’’ Ryan said in a sideline interview during the game. “Would have liked a little more production from all of us.’’
Reich insisted Ryan “looked pretty sharp. I just thought he looked poised in the pocket. I thought he looked accurate. The way he threw it in pregame, the way he threw it in the game, I thought every throw was pretty much right where it needed to be.
“I expected that. I expected to see him do that, but he certainly delivered there.’’
No JT, until it matters:
As expected, Taylor isn’t expected to step on the field during the preseason, except for pregame work, that is.
“Yeah, that’s likely the case,’’ Reich said. “That’s really what Chris (Ballard) and I talked about. I can’t see that changing for any reason. He’s looked good. He’s in shape.
“I feel like we’re getting good work in practice versus our defense. We’ll get good work this week against the Lions; he’ll get to see a different defensive scheme and players. We’ll thud that up a little bit. So, he’ll get some work there and I think that’ll be enough to get him ready.’’
Taylor’s target date: Sept. 11 at Houston.
Take it away, D:
It’s a different scheme, but similar results. After finishing 2nd in the NFL with 33 takeaways last season in Matt Eberflus’ defense, Gus Bradley’s group was back at it. As was the case with the offense, starters handled significant reps. The defense generated four takeaways during a five-series stretch during the first half, and added a fifth in the fourth quarter.
A quick recap: McLeod’s interception, cornerback Isaiah Rodgers’ recovery of a Jake Kumerow fumble caused by safety Julian Blackmon and linebacker Bobby Okereke, end Kameron Cline’s sack/forced fumble of Case Keenum, Rodgers’ interception, and a third interception, this one a diving pick against Barkley in the fourth quarter by Hamilton Heights H.S. product Sterling Weatherford.
And for good measure, cornerback Dallis Flowers intercepted a 2-point conversion pass by Barkley.
The reaction to the football – tipped or not – was impressive. The pass rush was steady. Bradley went with his front-line players to open the game, and rotated them in and out for much of the first quarter.
The Bills held out their starting offense, which contributed to the Colts’ dominance. But the defense’s first-half performance was encouraging nonetheless: four takeaways, two sacks, limiting Buffalo to 0-of-5 on third downs and 131 total yards.
“Great energy on defense, a lot of speed on defense and great mentality about getting the ball out and turning it over,’’ Reich said. “That was a great sign today getting those five turnovers with Shaq (Leonard) not even being in there.
“So we have to keep building on that.’’
And let’s take it a step further because the Colts’ backups played at a high level as well. Through three quarters, the Bills’ offense had mustered just 191 total yards on 39 plays (4.9 per play).
The fourth quarter clearly got away from the Colts. Barkley led three closing scoring drives: two Raheem Blackshear rushing TDs and Bass’ game-winning field goal.
It’s hard to walk away from the game encouraged by the receivers’ group. Pittman had two catches for 30 yards and Pierce had two for 27, but no one else flashed. Dezmon Patmon had one catch for 18 yards on two targets, but Campbell was shut out on two targets.
There were several occasions when Ryan and backup Nick Foles had to move to his next read when his first option apparently was covered.
“We’ll have to take a close look at the film,’’ Reich said. “I saw a few good things out there. One or two plays that we need to make. We talked a lot in our room about, it comes down to one-on-one match-ups. We won some of those battles today and we didn’t win some. Always want to win more.’’
Tight end update:
This was much more encouraging. Kylen Granson (two catches, 29 yards) displayed the catch-and-run skills that is so valuable in Reich’s tight ends-friendly offense. And the game wasn’t too big for rookies Jelani Woods and Drew Ogletree. Woods had two catches for 22 yards, highlighted by an 11-yard TD when he used his 6-7 frame to snatch the football away from a defender. Ogletree had just one catch for 5 yards, but had a 17-yard TD from Sam Ehlinger wiped out by a rare pass interference penalty on rookie offensive tackle Bernard Raimann.
Wait, there’s more. Michael Jacobson pulled in a 12-yard TD from Ehlinger.
We hesitate to make too much of this, but each opportunity in the kicking competition between Rodrigo Blankenship and Jake Verity is weighty.
Blankenship converted the 24-yard field goal and added a PAT. Verity’s only appearance involved a third-quarter PAT and he pushed it wide right.
Rodgers suffered a concussion on his second-quarter interception. He has entered the NFL’s concussion protocol. Also, wideout Keke Coutee suffered a groin injury in the second quarter and did not return.
This and that:
Foles’ first experience with the Colts didn’t go as planned. On second-and-4 at the Buffalo 28 after replacing Ryan in the second quarter, he was sacked by Boogie Basham – he beat backup rookie right tackle Jordan Murray – and fumbled. Linebacker Terrel Bernard scooped up the loose football and returned it 69 yards for a touchdown.
Ehlinger made the most of his extended playing time. He completed 10-of-11 passes for 88 yards and touchdowns to Woods and Jacobson. He also scrambled four times for 24 yards.
Weatherford led the defense with six tackles.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.