ANDERSON — Preseason losses rarely draw much ire from fans, especially in Indianapolis where poor exhibition performances have been the norm for much of the past decade.
But when owner Jim Irsay took to Twitter on Monday to apologize to fans for the Colts’ performance in a 44-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills at Lucas Oil Stadium last week, the preseason conversation went to a different level.
“He’s the keeper of the brand,” outside linebacker Robert Mathis said. “He’s the protector of the ‘shoe, and that’s his job. He’s the boss, and what are you going to say?”
The Colts hope to answer today with actions instead of words.
After being outscored 41-10 in the final three quarters against the Bills, look for Indianapolis to play its starters deeper into the game tonight against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.
In fact, head coach Chuck Pagano said earlier in the week that he expects quarterback Andrew Luck to play between 25 and 30 snaps. Ideally, that would take the second-year signal caller through the first half and allow him to experience a live two-minute drill for the first time this summer.
Other starters such as Mathis and fellow 30-something defensive stalwarts like defensive end Cory Redding and nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin could see as few as 15 plays. But defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said it’s important even for the veterans to get some conditioning in during the preseason.
“You don’t want to get into that Oakland game in the beginning of the year and be sucking eggs,” Manusky said, referring to the regular-season opener Sept. 8 against the Raiders. “So I still want them to somehow blow out their lungs.”
Improved health in the middle of the roster also could make things easier on the Colts once the starters leave the game. Indianapolis had 19 players sit out the loss against Buffalo. Among the Colts expected to make their preseason debuts today are starting inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman and first-round rookie Bjoern Werner.
The returning players likely will make the greatest difference on special teams. Sergio Brown, one of the team’s two best special-teams tacklers, is expected to play against the Giants. His running mate, Joe Lefeged, likely will be a game-time decision after leaving Thursday’s practice with a strained calf.
The kickoff coverage team was of particular concern against Buffalo, allowing a 107-yard touchdown return and an earlier 56-yarder that helped set up a field goal. It’s an area Irsay identified for improvement during the offseason, and one Indianapolis expects to perform better in today.
“We had a lot of those guys down, a lot of guys that made significant roles and (special-teams) contributions last year,” Pagano said. “To not have those guys available, it taxes you, it puts a burden on you. Now you are looking at more offensive guys, guys that typically don’t cover kicks, and it was good for us to find out because we wanted to find out who on the offensive side, who out of the receiver core, who out of the running back core, who out of the tight end core could eventually possibly make this roster because they could become a four-core special-teams unit contributor. It always plays a role.”
The Colts also felt like they left points on the field against the Bills, particularly with the first unit.
A third-down incompletion cut the opening drive short, and the team’s second possession ended with a fumble at the Bills’ 24-yard line.
Starting tight end Dwayne Allen likely will miss his second straight exhibition game, but the rest of the offensive starters are expected to play. And they hope to make an impact in front of a national television audience.
“We got to get points on the board,” Luck said. “However long we’re playing, positive drives ending in points. That’s sort of our goal.”