New Orleans vs. Indianapolis: Colts Preseason Week 3 Preview
The Indianapolis Colts have yet to get a preseason win after two games, but as Colts fans know very well, the preseason doesn't matter.
After a strong start against the New York Giants this past Saturday, the Colts were unable to keep a 26-point lead. It wasn't too big of a deal, as the first-string defense looked quite strong, holding Eli Manning to just 1-of-7 passing with six yards and the Giants to less than 50 yards of total offense at halftime.
Now, the Colts have a big game against the New Orleans Saints to see if the defense can actually compete against a legitimate NFL offense, and head coach Chuck Pagano says that the defensive players are pumped to play Saturday, according to Mike Chappell from the Indianapolis Star:
It's going to be a great barometer to see just how far we've come defensively. These guys, the numbers speak for themselves. Our guys are excited. Game week preparation, a little bit of game planning going on, those types of things. Those guys are excited to play an outstanding team, an outstanding offensive unit and see exactly where we're at.
After this game, the Colts will just have one more before their regular-season opener against the Denver Broncos. Since it's the third game of the preseason, the Colts starters are expected to play significant time, so it will be the last real test before the defense has to take on Peyton Manning.
Colts Preseason Week 2 Recap
The Colts had a lot of positive takeaways from their 27-26 loss to the Giants, mostly coming from the starters.
Offensively, Andrew Luck looked to be in sync with newly-acquired receiver Hakeem Nicks, who last played for the Giants. The two connected five times for 53 yards, but they would have had another big play had Nicks not been called for unsportsmanlike conduct after waving at a defender.
Unfortunately, Trent Richardson didn't look as comfortable. He finished with nine carries for just 21 yards as he continued to struggle to get through the line of scrimmage. Donte Moncrief, who had a chance to see more time with the first team with T.Y. Hilton and Reggie Wayne inactive, wasn't able to get a lot of work in with Luck, catching just one ball for nine yards.
On defense, everything looked great. Manning couldn't get anything going, and neither could the run game, with the Giants finishing with just a 2.9 yards-per-carry average. Bjoern Werner looked much more comfortable at outside linebacker with a year under his belt, while the defensive line of Cory Redding, Arthur Jones and Josh Chapman looks like an intimidating trio.
The big thing was that the Colts had no major injuries in the game, and they're hoping that they can carry that into this coming game.
News and Notes
Grigson: Richardson Needs to "Answer the Bell"
The most criticized move Ryan Grigson has made during his short time with the Colts has been the decision to trade away a first-round pick for Trent Richardson. Now, with the 23-year-old running back entering his first full season with the Colts, Grigson is letting him know that it's time to step up.
Grigson told Mike Wells of ESPN.com:
Trent, he needs to answer the bell and do his job to the best of his ability. We’re all accountable here. I will say this, there are a lot of backs last year that wouldn’t have got [2.4] considering the amount of people he had in that box and the amount of bodies that were hitting him before he even seemed to get the ball sometimes.
The Colts run game is going to depend on Richardson this year. With Donald Brown gone and Vick Ballard out for the year, Ahmad Bradshaw appears to be the only legitimate backup behind the former Cleveland Browns back.
Grigson is right to expect Richardson to step up, because if he doesn't, Colts fans won't be too happy about giving up a first-round pick for him.
Reggie Wayne's Status Still Uncertain
After tearing his ACL against the Broncos last season, Colts fans are eager to see Reggie Wayne finally return to the field, especially after how good he's looked at training camp. However, it's still unclear whether Wayne will get a chance to see any action on Saturday.
According to Kevin Bowen from Colts.com, Pagano told reporters that Wayne is still a game-time decision, although he does mention that Wayne is 100 percent.
At 35 years old, Wayne is nearing the end of his career, and no one knows whether or not he'll be the same player once he goes back out onto the field. Still, the Colts have a lot of receiver depth, and with Luck at quarterback, Wayne will likely still be significantly involved in the offense.
Robert Mathis Will Not Play
As a veteran, Robert Mathis doesn't need to worry too much about getting in-game experience, but even so, it looks like the Colts won't be playing the 33-year-old outside linebacker on Saturday against the Saints.
Pagano told the media that Mathis will sit Saturday's game, according to Mike Wells. As Wells also points out, because of his four-game suspension and the fact the starters will likely rest the final preseason game, Mathis now won't see the field again until the Colts play the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 5.
Because of the suspension, the next month and a half are huge for Werner. He'll replace Mathis as the pass-rushing linebacker, but Werner wasn't nearly as productive his rookie season, coming up with just 2.5 sacks.
However, Werner has looked much better this preseason, and if that can continue, the Colts might be in significantly better shape defensively.
All injury statuses from ESPN.com
While Wayne's status is uncertain for Saturday, it seems that a decision has already been made for both Ahmad Bradshaw and Delano Howell.
Howell's neck injury is the much bigger story this week. According to Stephen Holder from the Indianapolis Star, Howell will visit a specialist to evaluate the severity of his injury, which appears to be related to the same one that forced him to spend 10 weeks on injured reserve last season.
Now that Howell's injury could potentially force him to miss significant time, it looks like the starting job might belong to Mike Adams, but the bigger concern is now the lack of depth at safety, especially after the Colts passed on a number of safeties in the 2014 NFL draft.
Bradshaw should be good to go, and that's great to hear after his 2013 season was cut short. He'll be a crucial part of the offense as a backup behind Richardson, because if he goes down again, there aren't a lot of options to choose from.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Darius Butler vs. Brandin Cooks
The entire secondary will be put under the microscope against Drew Brees, but the matchup to watch throughout will be between Darius Butler and Brandin Cooks in the slot.
When Vontae Davis and Greg Toler are both healthy and on the field, Butler tends to thrive as a nickel corner, shutting down slot receivers. Butler's speed will be put to the test on Saturday, however, as he goes against promising rookie Brandin Cooks, who has already caught six passes for 71 yards and a touchdown this preseason.
Cooks might end up being one of the deadliest slot receivers in the league in terms of speed, so this will be a great test for Butler to see if he can keep up.
Andrew Luck vs. Saints Secondary
Last season, the Saints allowed just 194.1 passing yards per game, the second-fewest in the league. Now they've added even more talent in the secondary, so Luck may have a tougher time finding his receivers than he did against the Giants.
The Saints were able to add Champ Bailey at cornerback while pairing promising sophomore safety Kenny Vaccaro with Jairus Byrd in free agency. With talent and some depth in the defensive backfield, the Saints look set to shut down opposing quarterbacks once again.
Luck has already developed great timing with most of his receivers, so he'll try to get the offense moving, but this Saints defense has changed a lot since giving up 7,042 total yards in 2012.
Colts Run Defense vs. Mark Ingram
After completely shutting down the run against the Giants, the Colts are feeling quite confident defensively, but they're going to have to make sure to not sleep on Mark Ingram, who is looking to finally have the breakout season he's been waiting for in the NFL.
In two games this preseason, Ingram has looked quite promising. Along with rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown on only eight carries in their first game, he also had a 23-yard touchdown reception this past week against the Tennessee Titans.
The front seven for the Colts has some interesting new pieces this season, and they look to be working so far. The Saints aren't the best running team, but that's because they don't have to rely on the run with Brees under center. Ingram is hoping to prove himself, so the Colts will have a potentially touch matchup in the trenches.
Colts' X-Factor of the Week: Bjoern Werner
As I said earlier, Werner is going to have to be a big part of the pass rush for the first quarter of the season, and this is a reasonable test for the former Florida State defensive end with Mathis not playing on Saturday.
Werner will be going up against second-year offensive tackle Terron Armstead, who the Saints have very high hopes for after he was inactive for 10 games in his rookie season. He didn't shine when on the field last year, but he showed a ton of potential. If Werner can get past Armstead, it will say a lot about his progress this offseason.
When watching Werner Saturday, don't look for how many times he hits Brees, but keep an eye on whether or not he's at least able to put some pressure on the veteran quarterback.
The starters on both sides are expected to get significant playing time on Saturday, so this game will depend much more on the starters than the past few weeks have.
It's hard to tell how the Colts will play against a team like the Saints. While there's a lot of talent in the NFC, the Saints seem to be overlooked at times as a contender. Brees has more than enough weapons on offense, and Rob Ryan's defense could be one of the best in the league this year.
It's hard to think of a more perfect test this preseason for the Colts than to play against another legitimate playoff team. I expect Luck to get the Colts down the field, but it might be hard to score if Richardson can't get going.
From what he's done so far this preseason, it's hard to tell if Richardson really has gotten more comfortable in the offense. I expect the offense to struggle to get into the end zone, while Brees will be able to make some deep throws against the likes of Adams and LaRon Landry at safety.
Luck's magic should be able to keep things at least close, but once the backups go in, the Colts likely won't be able to do much.
Prediction: Saints 24, Colts 17