Colts at Lions: What to look for Friday

Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – The Indianapolis Colts close their preseason Friday night against the Lions at Ford Field in Detroit.

  • Kickoff: 7 p.m.
  • Broadcast: FOX59.

History lesson

For those keeping track at home – and since the NFL keeps score – the Colts are on the verge of their first unbeaten preseason since 1994 (4-0) and just the sixth in franchise history. Make of that what you will.

And then there’s this. The Colts followed up their previous five perfect preseasons with at least 8-8 records, but only reached the playoffs once. After going 5-0 in the 1965 preseason, they went 10-3-1 in the regular season and earned a playoff spot.

Interesting, but means very little.

No Cincy

This just doesn’t feel right. It’s the final preseason game and the Cincinnati Bengals are nowhere to be found. Well, they’ve got a Sunday meeting with the Miami Dolphins in Cincy, but you know what we mean. That, of course, is a byproduct of the NFL moving to a 17-game regular season and a three-game preseason. So, see ya, Cincy.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic erasing the 2020 preseason schedule, the Colts and Bengals had met in the final game 17 straight years.

 Backups Bowl

After discussing things with first-year Lions coach Dan Campbell, Frank Reich decided to follow his lead and hold out the vast majority of his starters. Apparently neither was willing to risk injury to a front-line player with the Sept. 12 season opener looming.

While we generally like to see skill players, especially a running back, absorb his first legitimate hit in the preseason and not when things count, we understand the extreme caution. And that probably was driven home when running back Travis Etienne, Jacksonville’s first-round draft pick, suffered a season-ending Lisfranc injury Monday night against New Orleans.

Reich said he initially was “on the fence’’ about whether to play his some of his starters in the third preseason game, but changed his mind after talking with Campbell.

“Physically we’re in good shape,’’ he said.

More work for the QBs

Carson Wentz seems to be on target for the Sept. 12 opener against Seattle, but won’t step on the field Friday even though in a light moment at Wednesday’s final training camp workout Reich joked he was thinking about “slipping him” in there.

Ha ha.

But it’s no joke Jacob Eason and Sam Ehlinger need the work. Each has had flashes during camp, but inconsistencies have plagued them. The bottom line: neither has done enough to reinforce the notion he has progressed to the point he could be a viable backup or short-term fill-in if Wentz isn’t available or suffers another injury.

Eason has completed 31-of-48 passes (64.6%) for 315 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions and an 83.3 passer rating. Ehlinger has completed 18-of-28 (64.3%) for 225 yards with no touchdowns, three interceptions and a 49.5 rating.

Eason starts against the Lions followed by the team’s sixth-round draft pick. Reich probably will give Brett Hundley his first work of the preseason at some point.

Final auditions

It’s easy to make light of a third preseason game when neither team plays its starters, but there’s a ton on the line for a slew of players. Rosters must be cut to 53 on Tuesday, which means Reich and general manager Chris Ballard face 27 roster moves in the coming days.

“Tough decisions,’’ Reich said.

We’ll be paying special attention at wide receiver where rookie Mike Strachan, Dezmon Patmon and Ashton Dulin probably are vying for the final two spots; if, that is, the Colts keep six. Dulin has established himself as a solid special teams contributor, so Patmon and Strachan could boost their stock by stepping up in that area. It was worth nothing that when Rigoberto Sanchez dropped a punt in the closing minute of last Saturday’s win at Minnesota inside the 10-yard line, it was Patmon on hand to down the football at the Vikings 6.

Also, while Julién Davenport has seized left tackle until Eric Fisher completes his rehab from a torn Achilles, another tackle spot should be available to either Sam Tevi or Will Holden. As much as the Colts want proven depth along the offensive line, will they be able to keep four tackles – Braden Smith, Davenport, Holden and Tevi – until Fisher is activated? Tevi seemed to be the offseason frontrunner for a roster spot as perhaps a swing tackle, but did little during camp to reinforce those expectations.

One thing to keep in mind when rosters are pared to 53 is the 16-player practice squad will be former shortly thereafter. Most of those spots likely will be filled by players cut Tuesday, but a few probably will go to players released by other teams.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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