Keeping in mind NFL preseason games mean nothing except when they mean less, Indianapolis Colts fans should be relatively content today.
Yes, there are concerns about tight end Coby Fleener's knee (slightly sprained) and hands (occasionally iron), but that's nothing a week's worth of health and a couple good grabs can't cure.
In the broader context of the Colts' second preseason game, a 20-12 win over the New York Giants on Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, there were far more positives than a week ago. In fact, Fox's national broadcast glimpse into the probable strengths of the Colts showed a team that could, indeed, be better than a year ago.
Start with quarterback Andrew Luck. He had one bad throw, and it bounced off Giants defensive back Aaron Ross, and then was tipped up by Reggie Wayne and caught by Wayne for a touchdown. Take this out of that: Wayne remains ageless in his reaction time and agility. He can, at age 34, in his 13th season, make plays other receivers can't.
Beyond that throw, Luck made mostly right moves all night. His first series fizzled when Fleener failed to catch the football when it hit him in the hands. Otherwise, Luck led the offense to 17 points, including a precision touchdown pass to the deep corner of the end zone to T. Y. Hilton. Luck finished with strong stats against the Giants' first-team defense: 9-of-13 passing, 107 yards, two touchdowns.
Hilton, who has caught everything in practice and games so far this season, kept his concentration on the pass and touched his trail foot into fair territory with instincts that evoked the current Wayne and the classic Marvin Harrison. Colts fans will not be able to get enough of Hilton this season if he keeps it up, and it looks like he will.
It was good to see Luck make some throws to new receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, who caught four passes for 42 yards. Heyward-Bey can make Wayne and Hilton even more effective if he's able to use his size and speed. Outsiders have speculated Heyward-Bey is inconsistent as a receiver, with a tendency to drop passes. His catches Sunday, and his tight securing of the ball before taking hits, were a positive sign.
The Colts' running game, touted repeatedly by offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, was nothing special against the Giants. It's impossible to judge the run game until Ahmad Bradshaw is in uniform, which should be this coming Saturday night at home against Cleveland.
Defensively, the Colts were able to limit Giants quarterback Eli Manning to two field goals with the first-team unit. The Giants could have had a chip-shot field goal on their first drive, but coach Tom Coughlin decided to take a look at his short-yardage offense on 4th-and-2. The Colts defense made the stop, a good battle to win.
In terms of the Colts' defense's individual play, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois was active early, Erik Walden sacked Manning and cornerback Greg Toler picked off a Manning pass. Rookie outside linebacker Bjoern Werner played a lot of minutes. He let the Giants' offensive line get the best of him early, allowing an outside run, but seemed to find his rhythm the longer he played. He nearly had a sack and showed strong tackling skills against the run. He also dropped back well into pass coverage.
Later in the game, and it gets dicey to judge performances as the second- and third-team players take their time, Colts defensive tackle Drake Nevis stood out. I'm not sure what his big-play celebration move is all about – it only looks like he's signaling traveling – but it was fun to watch. Linebacker Caesar Rayford had some quarterback-drilling fun, too.
Again, it's important to remember that preseason success on the scoreboard, or even in specific drives, don't necessarily predict regular-season results.
But when it was No.1 unit vs. No.1 unit, the Colts made the necessary plays. Luck looked as sharp as ever – other than the lucky touchdown pass to Wayne – and he has some big wide receiver weapons in Wayne, Hilton and Heyward-Bey. (Wayne had a tremendous one-handed grab on a screen that showed his incredible ability, too.)
The defense is a work in progress, but there was progress. Seeing Werner on the field, and improving the longer he played, was a big plus.
The second preseason game was much better than the first for the Colts. At this point, that's a win all the way around.