The Indianapolis Colts sat eight starters for their preseason game against the New York Giants, including Jerrell Freeman and Robert Mathis. Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin might have won Super Bowl XLVI in Indy a couple of years ago, but last night they looked a little like the East Dillon Lions during Coach Taylor’s first season. It’s hard to know how much of that was the Colts’ influence, but they can only play the team on the schedule. And if the Giants do prove to be a hot mess, the Colts did exactly what they were supposed to do if you ignore the final score.
The fun part about the Colts’ defensive performance thus far is that there hasn’t really been a standout star. D’Qwell Jackson sacked Eli on third down. Darius Butler grabbed an interception that was overturned by a penalty. Marcus Burley and Bjoern Werner showed flashes of improvement in stopping the run. Greg Toler and Mike Adams combined to cause a fumble on Victor Cruz. Newcomer Colt Anderson put a damper on the Curtis Painter revenge game with a nice sack of his own. Every big play featured a different name.
Defense has been a point of emphasis for coach Chuck Pagano his entire career, and he may have actually put together something special. It’s a potpourri effect; you’re never quite sure who the next play is going to come from. The only bummer hanging over the game last night (other than the final score) was the number of big plays negated by penalties, specifically five “illegal contact” calls.
Illegal contact is called when a defender interferes with a receiver more than five yards away from the line of scrimmage before the ball is thrown. The penalty is five yards and an automatic first down (and, in the Colts’ case last night, two negated turnovers). This rule is apparently going to be a point of emphasis this year, even though it’s been on the books since 1978. The point of the rule is to prevent a defender from just mauling receivers on their routes. After the ball is thrown, the penalty would be called defensive pass interference. I think that’s the difference.
So really, the point of this rule is to protect receivers and ultimately make it easier to score more points. This is exciting for viewers, but it’s also frustrating for what appears to be a rapidly improving defensive unit. This is what preseason is for. We know they’ll be working on it this week. It’s certainly something to keep an eye on moving forward, especially next Saturday against the always explosive New Orleans Saints.