INDIANAPOLIS — Colts Head Coach Frank Reich isn’t showing his hand. It’s not the time or place.
But while vanilla always will be the offensive flavor of choice during the preseason, Reich wants to see better execution, particularly in one-on-one situations.
There were a few too many losses and not enough wins by Matt Ryan’s receiving corps in Saturday’s 27-24 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
“I think they probably got the edge on us, but it wasn’t like it was an 8-2 decisive victory,” Reich said Sunday. “It was closer than that. We lost some, we won some. I’d like to see us win a little more.”
Like most coaches, Reich isn’t about to open much of his playbook – offensive or defensive – during the preseason.
“My MO is usually to stay pretty generic in preseason,” he said. “That’s just what I’ve always done. We have a new quarterback so we don’t want to show too much of anything. So, we’re not going to all the lengths that we would do to try to free guys up on certain things if that makes sense.”
Instead, receivers are “put in the most difficult position,” Reich said. “Let’s spread it out, stay static and play one-on-one football.
“We’re going to win some, we’re going to lose some, but that is good evaluation, good learning times.”
That approach requires receivers – wideouts, tight ends, running backs – to handle press coverage at the line of scrimmage or physical coverage. They must fight through it to get into their route.
On a third-and-3 on the opening drive against the Bills, rookie Alec Pierce was pressured at the line by cornerback Kaiir Elam, Buffalo’s first-round draft pick. Pierce had to wrestle through Elam before getting into his quick crossing route. When Ryan’s pass arrived, Elam was able to bat it away.
In the third quarter, rookie tight end Jelani Woods adjusted his route on first-and-10 at the Bills 11 as Sam Ehlinger scrambled to avoid the rush. He pulled in an 11-yard touchdown while surrounded by safeties Nick McCloud and Josh Thomas.
“Really liked the game that Jelani had and really was pleased with how the tight ends as a group played,” Reich said.
He added all of Ryan’s targets in the passing game need to work on being physical in their one-on-one matchups.
“That’s an ongoing deal,” he said. “In games, it’s a great opportunity to get that.”
It’s also a point of emphasis in practice at Grand Park Sports Campus.
“We put a high degree of emphasis on one-on-ones, to get that physicality. You can’t get enough reps of those,” Reich said. “Even in practice, you limit those because every player will tell you that the most difficult period in a practice is the one-on-one period.
“That’s the most intense the practice gets believe it or not, just in that one-on-one matchup. Everything is focused there. I feel confident about the guys we have in those matchups. We’ll continue to build and get better.”
Sharing the football and the reps
At Buffalo, everyone seemed to have an opportunity to do something in the passing game.
Twenty different players had at least one target from Ryan, Nick Foles, Ehlinger and Jack Coan. Sixteen managed at least one catch, but no one had more than two.
Michael Pittman Jr. had two catches and a team-high 30 yards on three targets. Tight end Kylen Granson was next with two catches and 29 yards on two targets, followed by Pierce with two catches and 27 yards on three targets.
The top snap counts among wideouts: Dezmon Patmon with 36, Pierce with 32, Ashton Dulin with 20, Pittman with 19 and Parris Campbell and Samson Nacua with 16 each.
How will Reich, Chris Ballard and the coaching staff determine which wideouts make the 53-player roster?
“It’s the accumulative effect of all the OTAs, all of training camp and then you have three limited preseason games,” Reich said. “Do we weigh the preseason games heaver than a practice? Of course we do, but it’s not like a 10-1 landslide in weighting.
“So, you just continue to mix the rotation as much as you can. We have an idea who our first group is in general, and make sure that Matt is getting a lot of work with those guys so that we feel comfortable as we go week-to-week and build towards week 1 against Houston.”
The first NFL-mandated cut is Tuesday when rosters must be trimmed to 85. The next cut to 80 is Aug. 23 followed by the cut to 53 Aug. 30.
Back at it
Players have a walkthrough Monday before returning to the practice field Tuesday at noon. Wednesday and Thursday they have joint workouts with Detroit before meeting the Lions in their second preseason game Saturday at 1 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.