INDIANAPOLIS – The biggest problem with analyzing NFL exhibition games is that while the drop off from first to second stringers in the NFL is significant, the gap between key backups and third and fourth stringers is huge.
The instinct to overreact to what we see in these games is massive because we really have no frame of reference how difficult the challenges these players are facing are, based on the competition they’re facing.
Add to that the fact that the Colts were at times pushing the Bears all over the field until midway through the third quarter when the shocking news of Andrew Luck’s retirement began to spread throughout the stadium. That appeared to suck all the air out of his Colts teammates and who knows how much we can make of what we saw on the field?
It included Nick Kwiatkoski looking like the second coming of Roquan Smith for most of the first quarter, Ryan Nall for the second year in a row being the best “exhibition runner” on the Chicago Bears, Cornelius Lucas doing his best imitation of a swinging gate and Chase Daniel waking up the echoes of another Kansas City Chiefs backup quarterback, Jonathan Quinn, to name a few.
In the end all we can do is interpret what we see.
Daniel was awful in 30 minutes of action finishing the night 3-for-9 for 21 yards, a long of 11 and taking two sacks for 13 yards lost.
But most troubling was a bizarre play with 1:25 to play in the first half on which Daniel was being sacked at the Colts 10-yard line on third-and-3 but rather than go down and protect the 27-yard field goal attempt to cut the Colts lead to 17-10, Daniel attempted to flip the ball to an unprepared Ryan Nall who bobbled it. It was recovered by the Colts and would have gone 40 yards the other way had the officials not ruled Daniel’s knee was down.
Adding injury to insult on a night when Cornelius Lucas was terrible at left tackle, his competition for the backup job, T.J. Clemmings was injured as the Colts tried to return the apparent fumble and it appeared serious.
Avoiding that kind of mistake is exactly why Daniel is earning $7 million a year.
Interestingly Tyler Bray playing the second half looked the best he has since becoming a Bear – 11-for-16, 136 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception, 89.6 rating – but it is highly unlikely Daniel will not be the number two quarterback in spite of a poor preseason.
After Matt Nagy identified inside linebackers as one of the positions he is focusing on prior to the final cut, Nick Kwiatkoski appeared determined to secure his spot with four tackles and a sack for a 10-yard loss in just a quarter of play.
What should we make of Kevin Pierre-Louis starting alongside Kwiatkoski while Joel Iyiegbuniwe didn’t get on the field until after Josh Woods had logged playing time as well?
Iyiegbuniwe did notch a touchdown on a 22-yard fumble return late in the game for the Bears second defensive score of the night – Deon Bush returned an interception 91 yards to the house for the Bears first score of the game – but it was a ball that bounced right to him in the open field.
We also have to wonder if Ryan Nall isn’t one of the three best running backs on the roster.
Nall notched an outstanding 69-yard run, although it was not as nice as the four yarder he made four plays later running through three Colts to get to the end zone.
That play unfortunately was nullified by a holding call on Ian Bunting, overshadowing another good night from the rookie tight end catching the ball.
After indicating he’d also be keeping a close eye on his young corners in this game, it will be interesting to learn what Nagy saw in the play of Duke Shelley and Michael Joseph who each had tough nights.
Lastly there was one moment that gave us exactly what we were looking for and left no doubt as to its import.
Eddy Pineiro’s perfect 3-for-3 on extra points and 2-for-2 on field goals was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Bears and the young kicker, but it was his 58-yarder that split the uprights on his second attempt that may have finally put an end to the Bears search for their next placekicker.