Indianapolis vs. Cincinnati: Colts Preseason Week 4 Preview
The Indianapolis Colts have been able to stay relatively intact through the first three games of the preseason, and as they prepare to play their last preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the starters can now turn their attention to the Week 1 matchup against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
After such a strong showing from the starters against the New York Giants, the Colts struggled this past week against the New Orleans Saints, including starting quarterback Andrew Luck. Because of an early deficit, the backups couldn't pull the team out, giving the Colts a 23-17 loss to move them to 0-3 this preseason.
Now, the Colts starters likely won't see a lot of action Thursday, but it will be a great opportunity for some of the bench players to prove themselves and help secure a spot on the final 53-man roster. As head coach Chuck Pagano has admitted, this year's cuts are going to be a lot harder.
"We said from day one it was going to be extremely difficult because we felt like the 90-man roster this year compared to year one is a heck of a lot different," Pagano said, according to Josh Wilson from Stampede Blue. "We're deeper at every position, we've got more competition at every position."
The Colts will have some extra time to prepare for the Broncos thanks to the final preseason game being on Thursday, so let's take a look at the upcoming matchup against the Bengals.
Colts Preseason Week 3 Recap
Drew Brees made his preseason debut against the Colts last week, and while the Indianapolis defense was confident heading into the game, the veteran quarterback quickly proved that they have some work to do.
Despite playing in just a handful of series, Brees looked just fine, going 9-for-15 with 128 yards and two touchdowns. On the other side, Luck surprisingly looked a bit off, going 10-for-18 with only 103 yards, a touchdown and an interception.
Trent Richardson, who the Colts need to step up, once again failed to produce, running for just 17 yards on six carries. Ahmad Bradshaw was able to see some action, but the real story out of the backfield was once again Dan Herron, who appears to have secured the third-string spot. Herron ran or 68 yards on just eight carries, including an impressive 43-yard run.
The defense wasn't as successful as it was against the Giants, but there were flashes of promise from the starters. Bjoern Werner finally looks like an outside linebacker this preseason, and that's big considering the four-game suspension for Robert Mathis. Of course, these games don't count, so the defense will really have to prove itself once the regular season begins.
News and Notes
Zach Kerr Proving To Be Valuable Part of Defensive Line
While fans questioned some of the decisions the Colts made in the 2014 NFL draft, it's hard to complain about some of the undrafted free agents they brought in, including defensive lineman Zach Kerr.
Up to this point in the preseason, Kerr has been a productive and disruptive player in the tranches. As the Colts continue to make roster cuts, Kerr now looks like he will likely be one of the final 53 players on the depth chart.
Stephen Holder from the Indianapolis Star believes that Kerr has proved himself as well, making himself a necessary part of the team. If Kerr can continue to impress once the season begins, the Colts could have a solid amount of depth on the defensive line.
Alex Boone a Potential Option for Colts?
With Donald Thomas already out for the season after retearing his quad and Khaled Holmes already dealing with an ankle injury, there's a lot of concern regarding the interior of the offensive line. The Colts will likely be trying to find in-house replacements throughout the year, but there are some names that the team could trade for.
One name that has surfaced before the regular season has even started is San Francisco 49ers offensive guard Alex Boone. As ESPN's Mike Wells pointed out, Boone has continued to hold out for a new contract, and that could put him on the trading block in the near future.
While a trade for Boone could help strengthen the offensive line, Wells notes that the 49ers would likely want a high draft pick for him, and after Ryan Grigson traded away last year's first-round pick for Richardson, the Colts would understandably be hesitant to make such a move.
Running Game Still a "Work in Progress"
While the Colts are stacked in the passing game with tons of weapons for Andrew Luck to throw to, the running game is still a huge question mark with Richardson as the starter and Vick Ballard out for the season.
Through the first three games of the year, the Colts are averaging just 3.5 yards per carry, and even Pagano has admitted that the running game needs to improve.
Pagano told Mike Wells:
I don't think it's where we want it. I think we're headed in the right direction. ...We're still working at it. We've had some lineup changes, obviously, on the offensive line. We went through a whole season last year with that, from a continuity standpoint getting those guys together.
Herron has been a bright spot up to this point, but the Colts really need to see production from both Richardson and Bradshaw once the season begins. If they can't get going, then teams will find it much easier to shut down Luck and the passing game.
All injury statuses from ESPN.com
After some major injuries early in training camp and the preseason, the Colts have been able to stay healthy for the most part as of late, and it's a nice sign to see most of the players on this week's injury report listed as probable for Thursday.
Per ESPN's injury report, Howell's neck injury does not appear to be career-ending, but there is still no clear timetable for his return. That's not good news for the Colts, who already had significant depth concerns at safety. Veteran Mike Adams will likely take over the starting job, but at 33 years old, it's unclear how effective he will be.
Cornerback Greg Toler is listed as probable, and Colts fans are hoping that he can finally stay healthy this year. He played in just nine games in 2013 and has missed 33 games since coming into the league in 2009. He'll be a key part of the defense if he can stay on the field, but that appears to be more than half of the battle for Toler.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Dan Herron vs. Bengals Run Defense
The starters likely won't get much work in on Thursday, giving players like "Boom" Herron a chance to get some significant reps against the Bengals.
In the first three preseason games, Herron has already run for 104 yards on just 18 carries while also putting up 53 yards and a touchdown on 10 receptions. He's arguably been the biggest surprise for the Colts this preseason, but the Bengals have a tough front seven, including some intimidating backups like Margus Hunt and Robert Geathers.
The Bengals allowed just 96.5 rushing yards per game last season, so this will be a great opportunity for Herron to prove himself against a tough run defense.
Colts Run Defense vs. Bengals Running Backs
They're not the best running team in the NFL, but the Bengals have a number of options in the backfield that will keep the Colts defense on its toes.
Along with Giovani Bernard, who exploded onto the scene during his rookie season, the Bengals also have BenJarvus Green-Ellis and promising rookie Jeremy Hill out of LSU. The Colts have given up 114.7 rushing yards per game this preseason but have allowed just 3.4 yards per carry, which is actually tied for the seventh-best mark in the league.
The Colts have already gone against some solid backs so far in the first three games, but none of the other teams had as much backfield depth as Cincinnati.
Zach Kerr vs. Bengals Offensive Line
As mentioned earlier, Kerr was worked his tail off this preseason and has likely secured a roster spot heading into the regular season, but this is still a good test to see what he can do in the final game before Week 1.
On the inside, the Bengals don't have a ton of depth, which means that Kerr could have the chance to go against some weaker players on the inside of the offensive line. At 6'2'' and 335 pounds, he's been a force this preseason coming out of Delaware, even getting a sack last week against the Saints.
If Kerr continues to play well on Thursday, there's a chance he could be the go-to backup behind Arthur Jones at defensive tackle.
Colts' X-Factor of the Week: Henoc Muamba
Grigson hasn't been afraid to cast an extremely wide net, and that includes taking players from the CFL, like Jerrell Freeman, who has been a huge piece of the defense the past couple of seasons.
Now, the Colts might have found another gem out of Canada.
Henoc Muamba, who signed with the Colts back in February, has looked terrific this preseason, racking up 16 tackles, a sack and two forced fumbles. He's done a good job filling in when needed at inside linebacker and could even end up moving past Kelvin Sheppard on the depth chart with how well he's played.
Through the first three preseason games, it's pretty safe to say that Muamba will be on the final roster, but look for him to make even more big plays on Thursday.
The starters have helped keep the Colts in their preseason games, but with those guys likely playing very little, it's hard to expect the backups to do much against the Bengals.
At his age, even Matt Hasselbeck might not play too much, which means that Chandler Harnish should be playing the majority of the game, and that's not going to help things. Harnish has completed just 52.8 percent of his passes for 181 yards and a touchdown while being sacked seven times and fumbling the ball away once.
Offensively, the Bengals haven't had a problem scoring this preseason, averaging 25 points per game. Along with a deep backfield, the Bengals have some promising backup receivers and a handful of backup quarterbacks that can hold their own.
The reserves on defense may help keep the Colts in this game. With names like Kerr, Muamba and Ricky Jean-Francois on the field, they may be able to force some turnovers, or at the very least get the opposing offense off of the field.
Still, don't expect too much from the Colts on offense once the reserves go in, and look for them to finish the preseason at 0-4 once again.
Prediction: Colts 13, Bengals 21