Saturday’s preseason finale provided a unique look for the Indianapolis Colts’ coaching staff and staff ahead of Tuesday’s final round of roster cuts.
In past seasons, Game 3 of the preseason usually served as a “dress rehearsal” for top offensive and defensive units as they hoped to get a few solid last practices to build momentum before the regular season started. Game 4 of the preseason, meanwhile, served as the “final audition” for the rest of the roster – with the guys using four quarterbacks to battle for the final spots on the roster.
Now that the NFL has cut its preseason to three games, Saturday’s final at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers served as both dress rehearsal and final audition for the Colts. Indy not only retired with a 27-10 victory, but the team ticked several important boxes as it officially turns its attention to the 2022 regular season opener on Sept. 11 on the road against the Texans. of Houston.
“Good end to preseason,” Colts head coach Frank Reich said. “We came here and we really wanted to accomplish some things – we wanted the (starting) guys to have some time, and we got some good execution in some situational football. That was important. We saw some things we wanted you see, I got the guys out (over there).”
Offensively, the first-team unit led by quarterback Matt Ryan ended up playing three practices on Saturday, entering the end zone on practice #3 thanks to a one-yard rushing touchdown. Deon Jackson ball, capping a five-game, 48-yard drive that was just 2:35 behind. That first unit was without its two best running backs in Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines (rested), as well as center Ryan Kelly (illness), who was replaced in the roster by Danny Pinter; Will Fries filled Pinter’s usual spot at right guard.
Ryan completed 5 of 7 passes for 59 yards for a 96.7 overall rating, and he also took off for an 11-yard rushing game to move the sticks early in the first quarter.
Starting in the second quarter, however, the Colts mostly exhausted a group of starving players in hopes of making one last positive impression in their final “job interview” before the start of the season.
At wide receiver, for example, the team looks set at 1-4 with Michael Pittman Jr., Parris Campbell, Alec Pierce and Ashton Dulin. But the Colts in the past have kept up to six wide receivers before the start of the regular season, giving guys like Dezmon Patmon, Michael Strachan and Keke Coutee, among others, a legitimate chance to earn a spot with strong performances. pre-season. .
Offensively, Patmon and Strachan did just that. Patmon Saturday tied three receptions for 50 yards, while Strachan had one reception for 11 yards. Coutee, meanwhile, showed off his returning skills, averaging 10 yards on seven total punt returns, including a 17-yard long one.
Patmon, who finished with the fourth most preseason yards in the NFL (171), said he was happy to have another opportunity to show what he can do.
“It feels good, obviously, to go out there and have the opportunity to play,” said Patmon, who had nine total receptions and a touchdown this preseason. “We all grew up playing this game as little kids, so it’s been the most fun thing I’ve done all week, so it’s always fun to get out there and play with my brothers. .”
Strachan, meanwhile, fought his way back from offseason knee surgery to return just in time for the team’s second preseason game against the Detroit Lions. He finished his two preseason games with four receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown.
“It was great to see him through this process,” he said. “It’s been a long process for me, just trying to get back there. I worked. But I’m happy to be back with the team.
“I knew we had no time to lose – game one was right around the corner,” Strachan added. “So I had to be strong and be ready to roll. My team depends on me and I’m ready for whatever my team needs.”
Defensively, the Colts’ second and third units sometimes dominated on Saturday against the Buccaneers’ second and third team offensive units. In the second half, Tampa Bay had just 122 total net yards, converted just 1 of 5 third downs, and was limited to averaging just 2.5 yards on 15 rushing attempts.
Entering his fourth season in 2022, defensive end Ben Banogu certainly knows the importance of the final pre-season game. With spots of depth still up for grabs along the Colts defensive line, the former second-round pick showed up this preseason, finishing with nine total tackles, including four tackles for loss, and two sacks. On Saturday alone, Banogu had five tackles (three for a loss) and a sack.
“I think a lot of it was just time on the grass,” Banogu said of capitalizing on his opportunities this pre-season. “I feel like in previous seasons for some reason the opportunity wasn’t there. But with this coaching staff and the way they believe in us in the room and personally the way they believe in me, it just gives me the freedom to not feel rushed and go out there and make plays and do well for my teammates. And every time you make your 1:11, everyone shines. I think today it just so happened that the light was on me, but for the most part it’s on everyone at different times. That’s the beauty of this defence.”
The next goal for the Colts is Tuesday’s reduction at 4 p.m. ET to the initial roster of 53 players, followed by possible waiver son pick-ups and the formation of the practice squad. Then the team will have 12 days until they open the regular season at NRG Stadium, as Indy hopes to claim its first Week 1 win since 2013.
“There are tough decisions ahead of us,” Reich said. “I feel like when we look back at pre-season, from OTAs to training camp to pre-season games, I feel like we checked the boxes that we wanted to check. and that we have some confidence going into the season.”