INDIANAPOLIS – Nothing like final-minute heroics to welcome fans back to Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts beat the Panthers on Sunday afternoon, 21-18, with a game-winning field goal from 30 yards out by Eddy Pineiro with 7 seconds to go.
Here are 5 takeaways from the Colts preseason opening win:
Five Things Learned
1. Solid Work For Jacob Eason: Considering this was the first time Jacob Eason had ever put an NFL jersey on, in any game, going 15-of-21 for 183 yards is pretty good. Eason hit on several throws down the field on Sunday, even showing off some touch to Parris Campbell, and a 3rd-and-10 conversion via a throw off the run to rookie Mike Strachan. He completed 11 of his 15 passes to his wideouts, which gave this offense more down the field production than what we’ve seen at Grand Park. Yes, connecting on throws past that initial read, awareness within the pocket and pinpoint accuracy are still hurdles for Eason to clear. But the big-armed QB showed on Sunday some of the arm talent the Colts want to see in game action, to go along with a two-minute TD drive to cap his half of work. Since the Colts began having rookie Sam Ehlinger work with the starters—splitting reps with Eason all this week—Eason’s game has risen a bit. Is that because he needed a kick in the you know what or is this just part of the growth period that you knew would be there for the inexperienced quarterback?
2. How’s Eric Fisher Doing? Anyone have an Achilles to donate to Eric Fisher for September? What about ‘Jimmy from the Colts’ seeing what Anthony Castonzo is up to? The team’s biggest issue at Grand Park was seen in front of a national television audience on Sunday. In the first quarter alone on Sunday, starter Julie’n Davenport gave up a pair of hits to Jacob Eason. And then Will Holden came in on the third series and gave up a strip/sack, with a false start penalty by him on the next series. This came against reserve Carolina pass rushers. While Fisher appears to be at a good place in his rehab, with a return date still up in the air (wouldn’t he need to start practicing soon for Week 1 to be realistic?), the depth at tackle has been exposed throughout camp. Is it time to give Sam Tevi another shot over there?
3. Up And Down Outing From Sam Ehlinger: Unlike the trend at Grand Park, it was Sam Ehlinger (10-of-15 for 155 yards and 1 interception) as the more volatile quarterback on Sunday. Ehlinger entered the game to start the second half and threw an awful interception on his first series of work, but then bounced back with a nice final quarter. The INT came on a 3rd-and-5 with Ehlinger throwing behind tight end Kylen Granson, with a ball that had no chance of being completed. Remember, one of Frank Reich’s biggest hopes for his QBs on Sunday was to protect the football. Ehlinger did lead two scoring drives in the 4th quarter, taking a chance on a couple of balls down the field that fellow rookies Tyler Vaughns and Tarik Black came down with. He also made a couple of key plays with his legs. Ehlinger finished on a much stronger note than he started. If the Colts stick to their preseason play time plan, Ehlinger will get ample action with the starters in the next preseason game. He needs a strong outing after what Eason did on Sunday.
4. Big Man Wide Receiver Competition? Two of the standouts from Sunday’s first half were two guys who could be battling each other for a roster spot. That would be second-year wideout Dezmon Patmon (5 catches for 49 yards) and rookie Mike Strachan (3 catches for 57 yards). We know the Colts are keeping their top 4 wideouts: T.Y. Hilton, Michael Pittman, Parris Campbell and Zach Pascal. As long as he’s healthy, Ashton Dulin is likely taking a WR spot due to his special teams prowess. Does that leave Patmon vs. Strachan for one spot? Strachan has had a better camp, but Patmon has come on as of late. This will be something to keep an eye on after both had nice performances on Sunday.
5. Not The Truest Evaluation: Frank Reich said the Colts would sit a ‘fair amount’ of starters in the first preseason game. By my count, Parris Campbell, Julian Blackmon and Zaire Franklin were the only starters on Sunday that are expected starters for the regular season, too. Carolina sat almost all their frontline guys, too. Unlike camp so far, it seemed like the offense (especially with Eason in there) was the better unit than the defense on Sunday. The Colts D did step up in some key situations to keep Carolina under 20 points. This past weekend, Reich said that the second preseason game, which comes Saturday in Minnesota, is where he will play more starters. The third preseason game could be a lighter run for the starters. With the first roster cut coming Tuesday (90 to 85 players), the back end of the Colts roster got a good chance to make an impression on Sunday.
-Offensive Starters: QB-Jacob Eason, RB-Marlon Mack, WR-Dezmon Patmon, WR-Mike Strachan, WR-Parris Campbell, TE-Farrod Green, LT-Julie’n Davenport, LG-Chris Reed, C-Joey Hunt, RG-Will Fries, RT-Sam Tevi
-Defensive Starters: DE-Al-Quadin Muhammad, DE-Ben Banogu, DT-Andrew Brown, DT-Antwaun Woods, LB-Matthew Adams, LB-Zaire Franklin, LB-Malik Jefferson, CB-Rock Ya-Sin, CB-T.J. Carrie, S-Julian Blackmon, S-Ibraheim Campbell
-Injury Report: T.J. Carrie (knee) got hurt in the first quarter and did not return. Fellow cornerback Marvell Tell (groin) got hurt in the second half and did not return. Wide receiver Quartney Davis (shoulder) got hurt in the 4th quarter and did not return.
-Stat to Note: Jacob Eason finished Sunday with a completion percentage of 71 and a yards per attempt of more than 8.7. Last season, Philip Rivers eclipsed those marks in the same game just twice.
-Up Next: The Colts will have 3 practices at Grand Park this week: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. All of those will begin at 10:00 AM and are open to the public. Their next preseason game is Saturday at Minnesota, with kickoff at 8:00 PM.