INDIANAPOLIS – We are now into the rhythm of an NFL game week with the regular season a week old.
Before hitting the practice field on Wednesday, we heard from the coordinators, DeForest Buckner, Parris Campbell and Xavier Rhodes on Tuesday.
What did we learn from the Colts as they begin their early prep on the Vikings?
-Did anyone notice a lot of arms up in the air from Colts defenders on Sunday following big completions given up? It looked like confusion in regards to missed assignments or communication breakdowns, which was surprising for a scheme that prides itself on being so simple. Eberflus said the Colts are trying to do some different things on third down this year with their coverages. “We are working through those,” Eberflus said. “The guys did a good job in a lot of those instances and we made the corrections (Tuesday), like we always do, and we are moving forward to the next week.”
-Eberflus was asked on Tuesday about the historically high completion percentage that the Colts continue to allow. “There’s no question we have to improve that and we will improve that,” Eberflus said. “We have confidence in our process. We have confidence in our players and we have confidence in our scheme. There’s no question that has to improve and it will improve.” The third-year defensive coordinator said re-routing receivers is the biggest issue for the Colts right now and something that needs to be addressed.
-Speaking of ‘re-routing’ wideouts, Xavier Rhodes said on Tuesday that he expects the Colts to play with some tighter coverage in Week 2, after Gardner Minshew picked Indy apart in going 19-of-20.
-DeForest Buckner met the media on Tuesday and was disappointed with his inability to take advantage of more 1-on-1 chances against the Jaguars. “The way I played didn’t meet the high standards I hold for myself,” Buckner said of his 6-tackle, 1 tackle for loss, Colts debut. The expectations for Buckner are understandably high in Indianapolis. Matt Eberflus said the staff can help Buckner get some more 1-on-1 looks with where he lines up and forcing a center to be occupied by with another Colts defender, instead of helping over on Buckner.
-One of the biggest individual bright spots from the Colts on Sunday was Parris Campbell. The second-year wideout, playing in just his 8th NFL game, led the Colts with 9 targets (6 catches) and 71 receiving yards. “He played a heck of a football game,” offensive coordinator Nick Siriianni said of Campbell. “He looked fast. He looked explosive, (showing) everything we’ve seen at practice that he necessarily hasn’t been able to show in games due to some injuries.” Campbell needed this sort of outing in an NFL game setting. He is a massive part of this offense and we saw that on Sunday, as he even out-snapped T.Y. Hilton (61 to 59 offensive snaps).
-Another positive element from the offense on Sunday was the screen game. The Colts saw several big plays in the receiving game from Jonathan Taylor and Marlon Mack in the screen department (Colts running backs caught 17 of 17 targets in Week 1): “That definitely was an emphasis for us,” Sirianni said of wanting to improve the screen aspect to this offense. “We knew that could bring more value to the passing game. (Offensive line coaches) Chris Strausser and Klayton Adams did a great job studying it and our staff did a fabulous job studying it. Credit it our coaches and obviously our players to get (guys) in the right position and then the players of executing it. Was really pleased with how that part of our game looked Sunday.”
–We know Jonathan Taylor is going to be the new starting running back for the Colts. Taylor left a strong first impression on his offensive coordinator, especially in the speed department. “He’s fast. He’s big. He’s explosive. He got out into the open field a couple of times and he’s pulling away from guys that are known fast guys. Myles Jack is a fast player, a fast linebacker. I saw a couple of times, (Taylor) pull away from him. Also, just some of the times getting in there with the football and lowering the shoulder when a DB was trying to tackle him.” Sirianni did acknowledge the Colts are asking Taylor to do some different things pass protection wise and that will be part of his growing responsibilities. The Colts do like the willingness, physicalness and intelligence of Taylor to handle that.
-Nick Sirianni was asked on Tuesday about the arm strength of Philip Rivers. On a few occasions Sunday, we saw some issues with timing when Rivers targeted guys outside of the numbers. Like they said in the offseason, the Colts are adamant that this isn’t a result of Rivers not having enough velocity to make those throws. “I saw all the same throws that I’ve seen in the past, outside the numbers, intermediate throws on the crossing routes, I didn’t see anything that said to me he’s lost any velocity and I would say the same thing about practice. That’s been consistent,” Sirianni said. “I think he has the same arm in there. Are we going to have some miscues here and there? Absolutely. Throughout a game, maybe we are short on a route or we are long on a drop, where there’s a little bit of off right there. We would love for every play to be perfect but in reality that’s just not the case. There were definitely a couple of those, where route depth and drop depth were off.”
-Sunday’s matchup between the Colts and Vikings means Xavier Rhodes will see the team that chose him in the first round of the 2013 Draft. Rhodes spent 7 seasons in Minnesota before they cut him this offseason, despite two years remaining on his contract. “It’s all love,” Rhodes says of his time in Minnesota. “I was there for 7 years. It was a brotherhood then, and still a brotherhood to this day. When I was practicing against them, we were competing each and every day, but I’m going to be able to tackle them this time (laughs).” The 30-year-old Rhodes did admit it’ll be a bit ‘emotional’ playing his former team for the first time in his career.
-For a second straight September, the Colts are keeping a close eye on the kicking market. On Tuesday, the Colts signed former Bucs kicker Matt Gay to their practice squad after he came in for a tryout earlier this week. Gay, a 5th round pick in 2019, kicked for the Bucs last season, making 27-of-35 field goals (long of 58) and going 43-of-48 on extra points. Gay lost a kicking competition with veteran Ryan Succop this offseason. With undrafted rookie Rodrigo Blankenship missing a 30-yard field goal on Sunday (along with making both of his extra points, and two other field goals from 25 and 38 yards), it is very wise for the Colts to make sure they have a keen watch on what the available kickers look like. If Blankenship misses a couple more shorties, the Colts will face another decision on the direction to go at placekicker. Gulp. As far as Chase McLaughlin, he’s currently protected on the Vikings practice squad.
-Another name on that Colts tryout list was veteran running back Lamar Miller. The former running back with the Texans tore his ACL in the 2019 camp and is waiting to find his next NFL home. Miller, 29, was cut by the Patriots this training camp and is starting to make the tryout rounds. The last time we saw Miller in the NFL, he did average 4.6 yards per carry in Houston for the 2018 season. While the Colts have a need in numbers for another running back on their 53-man roster, a signing of a new RB wouldn’t necessarily mean that player is headed for a locked-in role on game day right away. I still see Frank Reich sticking with a trio of Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins for the time being. But doing some homework on Miller, and other running backs, is wise.
-The Colts will practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday this week before welcoming Minnesota for Sunday’s home opener kicking at 1:00.