INDIANAPOLIS -- It’s not often that Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will take a backseat, especially on a night when he once again proved he’s ready for the start of the regular season, to anybody on the roster.
Luck did his part in leading the Colts to 17 points during his seven series on the field Saturday, but he turned out to be just a footnote because of how the defense looked against the Cleveland Browns.
Yes, the Colts defense, in particular the starters, was the dominating force. That’s the same unit that finished in the bottom third of the league in all of the major statistical categories last season.
With their starting unit together for the first time in the preseason, the Colts defense held Cleveland’s starters to four first downs, 109 yards and zero points.
Those stats aren’t from a quarter of play or even a half. The Colts did it while playing into the third quarter.
“The defense was outstanding,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said after the 27-6 preseason victory.
It wasn’t only the starters who played well for the Colts. Their success continued after the first unit called it a night early in the third quarter.
The Colts finished with three sacks, two forced fumbles -- recovering one of them -- and they returned an interception for a touchdown. They had six sacks and an interception in their game against the New York Giants on Aug. 18.
“They’ve been opportunistic,” Luck said. “Interceptions, guys getting hands on balls, sacks, you name it. They’re playing their butts off.”
Here are other observations from the game:
Who needs the preseason? Not Luck. Luck completed eight of his first nine passes and finished 16-of-25 for 164 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Saturday brought the second-year quarterback’s three-game preseason total to 29-of-44 for 322 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. Luck has taken his fair share of hits, but he’s been sacked only twice. That’s a step in the right direction for the Colts in their attempt to cut his 41 sacks from last season in half.
The Colts were right when they said they planned to use the fullback this season. Fullback Stanley Havili started his night off with a nice block to help spring running back Vick Ballard free for a 15-yard gain on the right side on the Colts’ first series. Havili was on the receiving end of Luck’s first touchdown pass -- from 3 yards out -- in the second quarter. The Colts have only three touchdown passes -- regular season or playoffs -- to a fullback since 2003. Havili was also responsible for Luck’s first interception of the preseason. Havili was open deep in Cleveland territory, but the ball went right through his hands and into the hands of Browns defensive back Tashaun Gipson at the Browns’ 2-yard line. Havili finished with two catches for 18 yards.
It was bad enough that Luck was sacked on the Colts’ opening drive. It was even worse that they lost their starting left tackle on the same play. Anthony Castonzo left the game with a right knee injury. Joe Reitz stepped in and played tackle in Castonzo’s place. Pagano said Castonzo has a mild sprain of the medial collateral ligament. He and receiver Nathan Palmer, who also injured his knee in the second half, are both scheduled to undergo MRIs on Sunday. The Colts can’t afford to be without Castonzo for an extended period of time because the offensive line is already a question mark with him in the lineup.
Receiver Griff Whalen was back on the field after missing the previous game with a groin injury. He came back at the right time, since rosters have to be trimmed down to 75 players by Tuesday. Whalen, the media darling during the first two weeks of training camp, made his case to be the fifth receiver -- fourth when LaVon Brazill is serving his four-game suspension at the start of the season -- by catching four passes for 57 yards from backup Matt Hasselbeck. Lack of depth at receiver has been a major concern for Colts in the preseason. Whalen helped his cause with the way he played Saturday.
Linebacker Caesar Rayford picked up his team-high fourth and fifth sacks of the preseason. Rayford has a unique story because he’s a 27-year-old rookie whose playing career has consisted of playing in the Canadian Football League and Arena Football League. Rayford missed out on his sixth sack of the preseason when the play was nullified by offsetting penalties.