Special teams. Colts fans have long been frustrated with the team's inability to provide solid coverage on special teams, and that weakness raised its ugly head again in the first quarter of the first preseason game of the season when Marquise Goodwin returned a kickoff 53 yards to set the Bills up near midfield. In the second quarter, Goodwin returned a kick 107 yards to the house. It would be nice if the Colts could find a way to keep the Giants' kick returner under an 80-yard per-return average Sunday.
Turnovers. The Colts committed three turnovers against the Bills, and a fourth-quarter interception was returned for a touchdown. That obviously has to change against the Giants in order for the Colts to stay in the game.
Run defense. As with special teams, the ground game is an area in which Colts fans are used to seeing their defense gashed year after year. It's aggravating to watch opposing running backs slice through Indy's defense like a knife through warm butter. It happened yet again last week against Buffalo, as C.J. Spiller tore through the defense for 36 yards on four carries (a 9-yard average) and EJ Manuel picked up 28 yards on three carries (a 9.3-yard average). The Giants' David Wilson and Andre Brown are nothing to sneeze at, so the Colts will want to shore up their run defense a little bit by Sunday.
Third-down efficiency. Thirteen third downs against the Bills, and only three conversions. Yuck. This was an area in which the Colts excelled last season, ranking No. 7 in the league in third-down efficiency (a 42.8-percent conversion rate). Hopefully, last week's 23.1-percent conversion rate was a one-game anomaly that will be fixed for Sunday.
Ball control. If it felt like the Bills constantly had the ball last week, it's because they did. The Colts lost the time-of-possession battle by over eight minutes. The Bills picked up 451 yards of offense -- 163 yards more than the Colts. Buffalo ran 20 more plays (85) than Indianapolis (65). It converted almost twice as many first downs (26 to 14). And the Colts were minus-1 on the turnover margin. It's really hard to win a game when you don't have the ball.
Preseason games are difficult to judge, of course, because teams utilize different strategies, send their starters out there longer, focus on different aspects of the game, and so on. For example, Andrew Luck and Matt Hasselbeck were both done for the day early in the second quarter, and Chandler Harnish led the team the rest of the way. Meanwhile, Manuel played the entire first half for Buffalo, and backup quarterback Jeff Tuel played the entire second half. So we're not always comparing apples to apples in preseason games.
However, if the Colts are looking to improve against the Giants -- and I suspect that they are -- these five areas would be a good place to start.
The author is a resident of central Indiana and a long-time follower of the Colts.
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