By TOM JAMES
Balance. That’s what the Indianapolis Colts will be trying to achieve in tonight’s (7, WDRB-41) nationally-televised National Football League preseason game with the New York Giants.
Coming off last week’s 44-20 exhibition loss to Buffalo, Colts’ coach Chuck Pagano is looking for a more balanced offensive attack, a balanced defensive effort and just better overall play from the team’s backup players.
“There are a lot of things that we will be watching. Offensively, defensively, third down. We want more balance offensively and we got to run the ball and that’s up to us to get that done,” Pagano said as the team wrapped up training camp workouts at Anderson University.
“Defensively, we want to stop the run. We got things calmed down in the first half of that game once [Bills’ running back C.J.] Spiller got out a couple times. We got to be more consistent across the board. Special teams, coverage units, those things we got to get cleaned up.”
While Indianapolis’ offensive and defensive starters saw very limited work against the Bills, that is expected to change this week.
“We’re going to play [the starters] more. [Quarterback Andrew Luck has] got to play more. We’ll see how the first half goes. You’ll see extended amount of drives, how the drives go. If it turns out to be a half, that’d be great. But if we have two or three drives starting out that are seven-, eight-, nine-play drives, which you hope for and we get 25-30 snaps, then he might not play,” the Colts’ coach explained.
“If it works out to where the play count, the pitch count, isn’t such and we can keep him out there and you end up maybe getting in a situation where you can have a two-minute drill much like Buffalo finished the first half in our first preseason game. [Just] to give that first [offensive] line, give your first offense, give Andrew a two-minute drive at the end of the first half. [But] a lot of that depends on how the game goes.”
TRY AND GET BETTER
Despite the preseason-opening loss to Buffalo, Pagano likes where his team is at this point of training camp.
“I think we [have] made improvement in all areas,” the Colts’ coach said. “Offensive line, I think that first unit, knock on wood, they stay healthy and continue to play together. The cohesiveness, the communication is getting better daily and so I think we’re as strong as we’ve been in a long time there. And we’re starting to find some guys are emerging as that sixth, seventh and eighth. We’re going to have a heck of a time come cut down time. The receiver position, I mean we know what Reggie [Wayne] can do. T.Y. [Hilton] has been outstanding. We’ve talked about him all the time. Day in and day out, he’s consistent as anybody. Our specialists are off the charts. I think those two guys [place-kicker Adam Vinatieri and punter Pat McAfee] are as solid as there are in the league.
“Defensively, it’s just about consistency. But I think front to back once we get everybody healthy and we get everybody back, we got a chance to be really good, especially in the back end. Once [strong safety] LaRon [Landry] gets back, the corner position I think we’ve really upgraded and solidified ourselves there.”
The key is staying healthy, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
“If you stay healthy there, we’ve got a chance,” Pagano explained. “You just talk to our offense, going against our defense. We’ve got a couple guys out there that can get up, play press coverage and make it extremely difficult for the offensive guys and wide receivers to get off the line.
“You give your pass rush, you give yourselves a chance from a pass-rush standpoint whether you’re rushing four, five or six, whatever it is. When those guys can’t get open, get loose, it makes it really hard for the quarterback to throw into tight windows.”
GOALS FOR TONIGHT’S GAME
Try and come out without any additional injuries.
Indianapolis has been lucky that the team’s health issues through the first three weeks of training camp haven’t been more serious.
Yes, a handful of players have been placed on the Colts’ injured-reserve list. But the vast majority of the injuries have been of the high ankle sprain, foot sprain, knee sprain variety.
Seventeen players were held out of last week’s preseason game with Buffalo. The list may not be quite as substantial tonight, although many will be game-time decisions.
Landry, strong safety Joe Lefeged, tight end Dwayne Allen, cornerback Cassius Vaughn, rookie offensive guard Hugh Thornton, rookie center Khaled Holmes, running back Ahmad Bradshaw, inside linebacker Pat Angerer, cornerback Teddy Williams, rookie inside linebacker Josh McNary, rookie nose tackle Montori Hughes and wide receiver Griff Whalen are among those not expected to suit up.
Tight end Coby Fleener is hoping to be given the green light to play after suffering a concussion against the Bills. Fleener fully practiced Thursday and Friday.
The Colts waived-injured rookie fullback Dan Moore, who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury.
If Moore clears waivers, he would be added to Indianapolis’ injured-reserve list.
Tonight’s game will feature two of the more fan-friendly special teams players in the league.
McAfee and New York’s Steve Weatherford both have sizeable fan bases, something most other players at their position don’t rate. Personality is everything when it comes to the loquacious Colts’ punter and the affable Weatherford.
“[McAfee is] a great weapon. And I know this: statistically, historically over a 10-year period, if an offense has to go 75, 80 yards on average, it’s about 15, 16 percent TD ratio that you end up scoring touchdowns,” Pagano said. “It doesn’t always work out that way, but the percentages are in our favor from a defensive standpoint.
“He’s one heck of a weapon and he does a great job. When we’re backed up, he can still change field position and when we’re in a pooch-punt situation, I don’t think there’s anybody better in the league right now than Pat.”
Weatherford is a Terre Haute native who has become one of the most popular players on the Giants’ roster.