The Bengals start the 2018 season against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. The Colts are a team in transition. They have a quarterback who was once supposed to be the next big thing in the NFL, but has faced adversity in recent years and missed all of last season. They have some young talent, but overall not a very good roster. They also enter the season with a rookie head coach (Frank Reich) and an all new defensive scheme.
When Andrew Luck came into the NFL in 2012, he was expected to be the league’s next elite quarterback. He started out strong, leading the Colts to the playoffs in his first three seasons and putting up impressive numbers including throwing for 4,761 yards and 40 touchdowns in 2014. Unfortunately the following year is when injuries became the story of Luck’s career.
Now Luck returns after a year off from game action and months of not throwing following shoulder surgery. There is reason to be concerned based on what he has done in the preseason. Luck completed 62.5 percent of his passes this preseason averaging 6.4 yards per completion and posted a rating of 78.1. For comparison, Andy Dalton completed 71 percent of his passes, averaging 10.5 yards per completion and earned a rating of 130.9. Dalton was actually the top quarterback of the 2018 NFL preseason in terms of passer rating.
Luck’s numbers more closely resemble a compilation of the Bengals’ other quarterbacks this preseason. Jeff Driskel completed 65.5 percent of his passes, Matt Barkley averaged 6.5 yards per attempted and Logan Woodside’s rating was 71.5.
In the Colts’ third preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers, Luck completed 8 of 10 passes for 90 yards and 1 touchdown, playing most of the first half. Some of his balls were a little off target, but here are some examples of throws that should make Colts’ fans feel optimistic about Luck’s return. Here, Luck throws a well-timed ball on the slant route to his long-time favorite wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
Luck throws the slant to Hilton in a tight window pic.twitter.com/3Z1l9YLy8Q— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 4, 2018
Luck throws a good ball here to tight end Eric Ebron. He puts it on his outside shoulder which is away from the defender and allows Ebron to turn and run up field to gain more yardage.
Really good placement by Luck here, throwing away from the defender and allowing Ebron to RAC it pic.twitter.com/MsljmNnigG— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 4, 2018
Luck was a dangerous player early in his career because of how he executed deep passes. Luck throws a touchdown to Ebron on this seam route. Although Ebron comes down with the ball, it is a high and a little behind the tight end. If cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon had been a touch quicker to react, he may have been able to make a play on the ball. Luck does not want to put the ball too far inside because safety Adrian Colbert, but he should be able to zip the ball inside of Ebron without risking an interception. Luck has definitely shown some good things this preseason, but there are also reasons for concern.
Luck to Ebron for the TD— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 4, 2018
This could be a thing in Indy this year pic.twitter.com/1rtdNYTHsE
Against the 49ers, Luck was sacked once and scrambled four times. His protection was pretty good, but either his receivers were not getting open or Luck simply was not finding them. In the clip below, Luck is flushed out of the pocket but he had plenty of time to throw the ball. Receivers not being able to get open is something that the Bengals suffered from early in 2017. It could also be the case that with a new offense and Luck returning, the Colts are just not in sync.
Luck on the scramble pic.twitter.com/1EW3SjVLnj— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 4, 2018
With Marlon Mack’s injury status unclear (he did practice on Thursday) the Colts will most likely lean heavily on Jordan Wilkins with rookie Nyheim Hines getting in the mix a change of pace. Neither has looked very good in preseason. Wilkins averaged less than three yards per carry and had a long of eight yards. Hines is undersized, but can contribute in both the run and the pass game and is a threat to take it to the house anytime he touches the ball. His display of balance and agility below demonstrates what type of athlete he is.
NC State RB Nyheim Hines is going to blow the doors off the Combine and has some sweet balance. pic.twitter.com/W69iCJpB0F— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) February 13, 2018
The Colts convertest from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense this offseason. This transition isn’t just about having more defensive linemen it is about what they are capable of. The most difficult position to fill in the 4-3 defense is the 3 technique. The three-technique must be strong against the run and capable of getting a pass rush from the inside. In the clip below the left tackle has no problem reaching the 3 technique on the run away. This is a difficult block, but he makes it with ease. The front side blocks line up as well and the 49ers are able to pick up a good chunk of yards.
Big opening for the RB pic.twitter.com/rIBvnzrywQ— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 4, 2018
The defensive ends also play a vital role in a 4-3 defense. They play an important role in the run game holding the edge and must be able to get to the quarterback as pass rushers. The Colts struggled to get any pressure on Jimmy Garoppolo in their preseason game against the 49ers. In the clip below Garoppolo looks very comfortable in the pocket and has plenty of time to execute. Former Bengal defensive end Margus Hunt is pushed right past the quarterback’s level at the top of the screen and defensive end Jabaal Sheard’s pass rush is completely shut down at the bottom of the screen. Rookie defensive end Kemoko Turay, who is not in on this play, has a lot of potential as a pass rusher but a long way to go.
All day to throw pic.twitter.com/x9a2Zxcz7U— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 4, 2018
The Colts are lacking the personnel they need on defense, but they do have some young talent. Free safety Malik Hooker may be the best player on the unit. He thrives as a deep field player, particularly using his range to play the deep middle. Colts 2018 second round pick linebacker Darius Leonard has shown some great potential so far in the preseason. Here he makes a great read to break on Garoppolo’s pass, but fails to make the pick.
Very good read and break by Colts 2nd round pick Darius Leonard pic.twitter.com/2NonNYAXpM— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) September 4, 2018
The only hope the Colts have of being relevant in 2018 is if Luck returns to his old form. This may happen, but odds are that it will take time. This Week 1 matchup should get the Bengals started off right and allow them to gain some confidence heading into Week 2.