The journey to Arizona and Super Bowl XLIX is underway for two teams harboring ambitions of making big statements this season.
On the road the Indianapolis Colts made a strong beginning with their first team offense, coming up only a little shy of the perfect start against a very strong defensive unit. On the other side of the ball they showed some improvements to their depth in the front seven with strong showings from reserves on both the line and at linebacker.
On the other sideline the New York Jets again showed that their strength will be up front with impressive displays in run defense both throughout the depth chart. New signings Chris Johnson and Eric Decker took their bow at MetLife Stadium but aside from a touchdown plunge from Johnson we’ll have to wait for another day to draw more from their performances and what they might deliver for the Jets this season.
Indianapolis – Three Performances of Note
Strong Start for the First Team
A 1-yard loss on a screen and a pass breakup by Dee Milliner formed a less than ideal start for the Colts. But then a 15-yard conversion on the ensuing 3rd-and-11 sparked a strong opening drive for the guys riding the top of the depth chart. From there the Colts picked up a long gain to T.Y. Hilton on the next play to kick the drive into gear, only knocked into neutral again by issues at center. Initially losing starting center Khaled Holmes to a knee injury before his backup Jonotthan Harrison fired a snap over Andrew Luck’s shoulder to halt the drive on 3rd-and-goal from the five.
In between those two down points were a couple of solid gains on the ground along with Luck showing early rhythm with both Hilton and Hakeem Nicks. The dream start for your first team offense in the pre-season opener is a touchdown drive, hitting the ground running from the outset. The Colts may have denied themselves the chance at that with a bad snap but they showed clear positives and weren’t far short of that goal against a stout Jets defense.
Hard Sledding Up Front
As well as the Colts’ offense started through the air, for the majority of the game they found yards hard to come by on the ground. Dan Herron had the Colts’ only two rushes of 10 yards or more and five of their offensive linemen finished with run block grades of -1.0 or lower. Finding out the hard way that the Jets’ run defense is strong down the depth chart too, the Colts’ backup linemen struggled to maintain leverage or generate much forward momentum. As a group the Colts’ running backs registered only 16 of their 58 yards before first contact, just 0.7 yards per carry. Among the starters Jack Mewhort’s debut (-2.2 overall) will not have been the debut that Colts fans might have hoped for. Encounters with the likes of Muhammad Wilkerson, Calvin Pace and David Harris in the run game did not go his way though he did at least keep a clean sheet in pass protection.
Another Foray North of the Border
The Colts aren’t shy about looking absolutely anywhere to find players to contribute to and improve their roster. Drawing in players from as far afield as Kenyan rugby (Daniel Adongo), this time the Colts have simply gone north of the border to the CFL. After the success of Jerrell Freeman (now entrenched as a starter) the Colts went for another linebacker and the first impressions from Henoc Muamba’s (+3.0 overall) pre-season debut are very positive. The former number one overall pick in the CFL Draft played 36 snaps last night and only Andy Studebaker (+1.5) registered more stops for the Colts. Entering the game on the first drive of the second quarter, Muamba stayed in the game until the end of the third quarter showing an ability to locate and bring down the ball carrier both unblocked and after shedding would be blockers. Rounding out his NFL debut by forcing a fumble from Daryl Richardson, this was a terrific start for the former Winnipeg Blue Bomber.
NY Jets – Three Performances of Note
Continuing Where He Left Off
Dee Milliner’s rookie season was a roller coaster ride only magnified by being in the glare of the New York media. Benched earlier in the season, he finished superbly earning a spot in our team of the month for the final four weeks of the season, notching three interceptions and breaking up another five passes. Featuring in 26 snaps last night Milliner was targeted twice, once each by Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck, and broke up both. Off to a fast start on the second snap of the game Milliner broke downhill quickly on Hakeem Nicks’ out route getting a hand across to sway the ball away while staying in position to make the tackle if the ball got through. The second target he combined strong coverage down the field with poor hands, leaving an interception on the field that would’ve halted the Colts’ sole touchdown drive of the game. Milliner talked a big game recently and the early signs are good that he will carry his late season form into the new season.
Teething Troubles on the Offensive Line
We are now well removed from the Jets’ offensive line being the gold standard in the NFL, and on last night’s evidence this group has some work to do to be among the league’s best. Whether it was Breno Giacomini getting tripped by Willie Colon to give Arthur Jones a free run to the outside, or Colon getting disrupted by defensive linemen as he tried to pull on plays the timing was just a little off. Probably most concerning was another shaky display from Brian Winters (-2.2) who on 26 snaps last night didn’t show much immediate improvement over a shaky rookie season. To round out on a brighter note however, Oday Aboushi (47 snaps, +1.5 overall) looked comfortable with the second string at right tackle. The Jets’ fifth round pick from a year ago surrendered no pressure on 24 snaps in pass protection.
If there’s one thing a Rex Ryan defense does well it’s stuff the run. The starting trio may not have got their chance to flex their muscles in run defense on limited snaps but the backup defenders certainly did. Three backup defensive linemen registered a pair of snaps with four of their seven reserve defensive linemen who played last night registering positive grades in run defense. Leger Douzable (+1.1) and Tevita Finau (+1.8) led the way in grading terms with reserve nose tackle T.J. Barnes also picking up two stops on his 19 snaps. Kenrick Ellis shone in limited snaps behind Damon Harrison last season and displays from the likes of Barnes suggest that the strength in run defense runs even deeper than just two deep for the Jets.
– Jets’ sixth round pick IK Enemkpali may have only played five snaps but he made the most of them with a strip sack in the final two minutes that clinched the victory.
– Andy Studebaker registered the most snaps in the game with 49 and put that playing time to good use by collecting four stops and four hurries.
– Inside linebackers David Harris (26 snaps, +1.2) and Demario Davis (17 snaps, +1.8) each earned positive grades with Harris showing more of a downhill presence than usual and capping off his display with an unblocked sack of Matt Hasselbeck.
PFF Game Ball
A CFL All-Star in 2013, Henoc Muamba got his NFL career off to a flying start adding a special teams tackle to his stellar work on defense as he looks to earn himself a roster spot over the next month.