Improvement and winning. That’s what the Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano hopes to accomplish against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a nationally televised NFL preseason game this evening.
Kickoff is 8 p.m. at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field (NBC) as Andrew Luck makes his first road trip as a rookie NFL quarterback.
The Colts are coming off a 38-3 win at Lucas Oil Stadium in the team’s preseason opener last week. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, dropped a 24-23 decision to Philadelphia in its initial preseason game as the Eagles placekicker Alex Henery connected on a 51-yard field goal with 12 seconds remaining.
It will be interesting to see how a young Indianapolis squad, particularly Luck, responds to facing a veteran-laded team like the Steelers in an adverse environment. That will most likely be the biggest test the Colts will face tonight.
“Starting the way we started was great. [But they] always say you make your biggest jump from your first preseason game to your second preseason game. So we’re looking obviously to get better in all areas,” Pagano said late last week.
“If we can go out there and do the things we talk about doing — running the ball, stopping the run, taking care of the football, playing well on third down on both sides of the football, scoring points in the red area, taking care of the football down there and those type of things, and then finishing strong in the fourth quarter — then we’ll be happy.”
Luck, who completed 10 of 16 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns during his debut against the Rams, knows that facing Pittsburgh’s aggressive defense won’t be an easy task.
His goals for the game are relatively simple. Get better, and play well in front of his immediate family, who live in nearby Morgantown, W.V. Luck’s father, former NFL quarterback Oliver Luck, is the athletic director at West Virginia University.
“Obviously, it was nice to go out and play a game and do some good things, do some bad things. But it will be much tougher on the road for our first road test. We’ll see some different looks [from Pittsburgh]. So we’re just trying to get better,” Luck said last week.
“It’s a different scheme than what St. Louis ran, so we have to familiarize ourselves with that. I’m happy [Heinz Field] is only an hour drive for my parents to be able to get to the game, so that’s probably what I’m happiest about. But [Pittsburgh has] a great franchise … a great history [and a] great recent history, so it’ll be a lot of fun and an honor to go out there and play.”
• Wayne looks ahead — Heading into tonight’s meeting with the Steelers, Reggie Wayne admits that he’s interested to see how Indianapolis reacts to playing in a tough environment.
“The main objective is to win and that’s the approach we are taking. At the same time, we want to continue to get better. We want to correct the mistakes we made last week. We don’t want to go out there and continuously make the same mistakes,” Wayne said after Friday’s final training camp practice.
“Pittsburgh is going to be a good test for us. They’re a defense that throws a lot of stuff at you, so we are definitely going to have to have our best foot forward and be ready for it. Plus, I’m sure they’re excited about our offensive coordinator, Bruce Arians, coming back. From my understanding, they used to have some good battles, so it should be a good game.”
• National audience — Interestingly, this evening’s matchup in Pittsburgh is the first of only two games — preseason and regular season — that feature will Indianapolis on a national stage. The other is the Colts’ Nov. 8 road game with Jacksonville.
That’s quite a turnabout for a franchise that has routinely played in at least two or three nationally televised games per season. But that’s usually what happens when a team is just a year removed from a 2-14 season.
“That’s the way it is. That’s why we got to win games. When you win games, the league says a lot of people want to see you. When you lose games, they throw you to the garbage. But at the same time, we can make them pay for it. We can go out there and win games,” Wayne pointed out.
“We can show the world that we’re not [the 32nd-]ranked [team in the league]. Once the ball’s kicked off, all that stuff doesn’t matter anyway.”
And then there’s his humorous take on the topic of playing a lot of games out of the national spotlight.
“One good thing about it, you play at [1 p.m. on Sundays], we’ll be done early, so we get to go home and have a good meal,” the veteran joked.
• Building a foundation — That was Pagano’s primary goal heading into last spring’s mini-camps and organized team activity practices. With one phase of training camp now over and the next about to begin, the rookie head coach is ready to put phase two into effect.
“The most important thing, we’ve come together as a team. You lay the foundation in the offseason; we’ve got a foundation that was built on rock and not sand. We talked about when they left [at the end of spring workouts], I wanted them to think about becoming champions and how to serve one another. And they came back [for training camp] in great shape,” he recently noted.
“Everything that we got done here is just a credit to our veteran leadership, the young guys, everybody just buying in. The culture that we’re trying to create, team, team, team. It’s all about the team and everything we do is based on the team and winning and they’ve done that. So it’s not a surprise to any of us coaches that we’ve had a good camp, a productive camp.”
Looking forward to the immediate future, Pagano has definite plans for the Colts.
“We’re just scratching the surface. We got a long, long way to go and [the players would] be the first one to tell you. So what we do is take it one day at a time, one play at a time, one meeting at a time. We don’t judge good or bad, what’s happened. We just go onto the next play,” he said.
“Our mantra is 60 minutes, all you got and don’t judge. Again, we got a long way to go. But their attitudes are right and their work ethic is right, so I’m sure we’re going to get there.”
• Charting Luck — Since the start of offseason practices in May, keeping track of Luck’s passing statistics has become a bone of contention for some fans and those in the media.
Some put value on reporters charting the rookie quarterback’s throws during 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 drills, where admittedly there is practically no pass rush and the defense isn’t always going full speed. Others simply don’t.
Pagano, though, understands the interest. His coaches also chart each of the practice throws. But that’s not the only thing he considers when looking at Luck’s development.
“Just his steady progress, handling the offense, his command of the huddle, continuing to make great decisions, not forcing things and again he’s trying to get better every day out here,” the Colts coach said. “He’s going to keep working. He’s his own worst critic, he’s not hard on himself but he understands he’s got a long way to go too.
“I just see the ball spinning out of hands and being caught by receivers. So I just figure at the end of the day, [that’s] a pretty good stat.”