Indianapolis Colts football returned to the field against the New York Jets on Thursday night, and the storylines were numerous. The offensive line situation was a mess, four running backs were vying for one spot, and the secondary play would be tested.
However, in East Rutherford on Thursday, several new topics of concern, disbelief and hope arose.
Some things happened as planned. Andrew Luck and the first-team offense looked fluid and comfortable. Luck and T.Y. Hilton connected for three catches, including a beautiful 22-yard arcing throw. The secondary was strong against a weaker Jets passing offense and showed some prowess. Pat McAfee looked to be in midseason form with some beautiful punts on special teams.
But here are five big takeaways that almost no one expected from Thursday night’s game:
1. Offensive Line Terrors
It is time to worry, Colts fans. Starting center Khaled Holmes went out of the game after sustaining an ankle injury on a Richardson run on the first drive of the game. He was able to get up and walk on his own power, so hopefully the injury isn’t anything serious. However, when Holmes left the game, the difference was remarkable, and not in a good way.
Enter rookie Jonotthan Harrison at center. The results were horrid, to say the least. The beautiful drive that Luck had started would fall short due to a botched snap by Harrison on third down, that resulted in a fumble recovery behind the line by Luck. He’d repeat the terrible snap late in the second quarter.
If Holmes is out for a significant period of time, the interior of the Colts offensive line is looking at disaster. Another example of Holmes’ effectiveness could be seen through Trent Richardson. Richardson had two good runs down the middle to begin the game, but couldn’t keep it going once Harrison stepped in. Holmes’ presence in the run game may impact Richardson’s effectiveness too.
Ulrick John also went down with an ankle later in the game. He’s not nearly close to the caliber of Holmes or Donald Thomas, but depth on the line is pivotal right now.
2. “Boom” Goes Dan Herron
After watching Herron’s performance against the Jets, it almost seems like a distant memory that the third running back spot was up for competition. Boom Herron was on fire for Indy on Thursday, despite a running statline that doesn’t quite match up with his production. Herron recorded 26 yards off of seven carries for a 3.7 YPC average. He showed an ability to take advantage of smaller holes that the offensive line opened up for him (and let’s be honest; with that O-Line, there’s not many). His ability to see the crease and accelerate between the tackles was impressive.
But that’s not why Boom Herron stole the show on Thursday.
Herron led all Indianapolis Colts by a margin with six catches on the evening (the next closest was Hilton with three). Four came on a beautiful nine-play, 80-yard drive, orchestrated by Matt Hasselbeck. At times, Hasselbeck didn’t take more than a second before using Herron as a go-to safety valve. Boom broke three tackles on the drive as well for additional yardage, which would eventually lead to a 12-yard dumpoff for the score.
There are three preseason games left for the other guys to prove themselves, but Herron takes the commanding lead for the spot behind Richardson and Ahmad Bradshaw over Zurlon Tipton and Phillip Tanner.
3. The Linebackers That Nobody’s Talking About
Fans tuning in to the game expected to see what quality plays could be seen from Bjoern Werner and Erik Walden against the Jets’ starting unit. While both players played well on the outside, neither were the best linebackers on the field. No, D’Qwell Jackson wasn’t either.
Andy Studebaker and Henoc Muamba were both playing lights-out defensive football against the Jets. With dominant performances tonight, both may have stamped their place on the roster.
Muamba was on fire defensively, logging 12 tackles along with a forced fumble for the Colts. He seemed to be flying around the field and wouldn’t let a pass-catcher get far before taking them down. The performance is meaningful to him as he attempts to make a spot on a team that’s fairly crowded at linebacker.
Studebaker, much of a nonfactor last year in extremely limited time, was possibly the best thing that the Colts had at pass-rush today. Werner and Cam Johnson were good, but Studebaker consistently was pressuring Michael Vick to make bad throws, throwing off the passing rhythm. He’ll get a long look at getting snaps in spot duty during Robert Mathis’ four-game suspension at the beginning of the season.
4. The Colts Were Actually Good Against the Run
Playing in the AFC South, the Colts are accustomed to being carved up twice a season by former Titans star Chris Johnson. Johnson started at running back for New York tonight and was, incredibly, a non-factor. While he may have scored the Jets’ lone touchdown of the night, he was held to 0.5 YPC on the day. Chris Ivory didn’t fare much better, grabbing only 17 yards on seven carries. The Colts’ starting defense was incredibly efficient against guys who have a history of dicing up defenses.
It was no one piece that held Ivory and Johnson in place; rather, it was the collective front seven working as a group. Jackson, Arthur Jones and Josh Chapman covered inside runs while Walden and Werner handled the outside runs. There was a certain discipline in stopping the run, something that defensive coordinator Greg Manusky has been trying to hammer into his guys. A 2.7 YPC for the entire Jets team is a great start.
I know it’s just one preseason game, but the Colts haven’t seen a run-stopping front seven since Super Bowl XLI in 2007. We’ll take what we can get.
5. Hall of Famer on the Hot Seat?
As hard as it could be to take in, Adam Vinatieri may be looking at a tough situation moving forward. Mr. Clutch’s inconsistency last season instilled doubt into the minds of Colts fans and Thursday’s preseason game picked up right where he left off.
Despite making an extra-long-extra-point and a 39-yarder early in the game, Vinatieri botched a 29-yard field goal with the potential to close out the first half and take the lead. In the current preseason PAT experiment, a field goal from 29 yards is shorter than an extra point attempt.
I know that Adam is one of the most famous kickers in the game; he makes the game-winning kick every time. But is it time to start shopping? We don’t have too many options in-house, but my bet is that Grigson puts out a couple of calls after a bad miss from Vinatieri at point-blank. Rookie Cody Parkey from Auburn might get some attempts as well (Parkey kicked off the game for a touchback, but no field goals).