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Eagles-Colts preseason preview: Five questions and answers

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Here's an opponent's perspective on the upcoming Eagles game.

Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles' third preseason game is just one day away. With the Eagles and Colts scheduled to face off on Saturday evening, I reached out to our friends over at Stampede Blue. The great Josh Wilson (@JoshWilsonSB) kindly took the time to answer my questions about the upcoming preseason game. Let's take a look at the answers.

1) As everyone knows, the third preseason game is typically the dress rehearsal. Sounds like both the Eagles and Colts will play their starters into the third quarter. What are you looking for out of the Colts?

"The Colts are looking to make this as close to an actual regular season game as possible.  Their plan (which, of course, is always subject to change) is to have the starters play the first half, go through halftime adjustments like normal, and then start the third quarter before leaving.  I think the biggest thing we'll be looking for from them is simple and obvious: staying healthy.  The team is thin at some spots right now (six cornerbacks won't play, for example), so keeping the starters healthy will make the game a success no matter what else.  But furthermore, I think the Colts should be looking to build on what they started last week.  Andrew Luck made his preseason debut against the Ravens a week ago and played very well, but the one negative was red zone offense.  The Colts moved easily into the red zone on both of Luck's drives, but on one it stalled and resulted in a field goal and on the other Dwayne Allen fumbled after catching a pass.  So even though the result of the game doesn't matter, the Colts would love to be able to finish their drives. 

They also would like to do better in the run game - both rushing the football and stopping the run.  Their running backs haven't been able to do much of anything on the ground this preseason, so they'd love to get that going this week.  On defense, they improved a week ago against the run but defensive coordinator Ted Monachino still pointed out the need to stop some scrambles and things like that.  Additionally, with the pass rush being such a big concern for this team, it will be key to see which young guys step up at the area.  Lastly, the Colts want to cut down on the penalties.  They were penalized nine times last week for 101 yards, and they obviously want to limit that this week."

2) Who’s an under-the-radar Colts player that might stand out in this game?

"Defensive lineman T.Y. McGill has been the standout of training camp and preseason so far for the Colts.  He finished the season strong last year by recording three sacks and a safety in the final two games, and he's just continued to build upon that this year.  With starters Henry Anderson and Kendall Langford both rehabbing injuries, McGill has had to step into a bigger role and has done so brilliantly.  A defensive lineman in a 3-4 system often doesn't get noticed as much as some other positions, but McGill has been playing tremendous football this preseason and has definitely been a huge standout, albeit from an under-the-radar guy."

3) How do fans feel about the Colts’ outlook this season? What’s an acceptable finish?

"I think the basic expectation Colts fans have is for the team to make the playoffs this year.  The national perception of the team seems to be very negative, while some Colts fans think the team can be really good - though I think both views are flawed and in the minority among Colts fans.  I think the bottom line is that, with Andrew Luck back, the expectation is that Indianapolis can win the AFC South, make the playoffs, and perhaps win a playoff game or two depending on the matchup.  I think a ten-win season is a perfectly acceptable expectation and one that I think they can achieve if Luck plays all 16 games.  Last year was a disaster, but they still came within one game of winning the division despite Luck missing nine games.  Though I think the AFC South is improved, I think Luck's return makes the Colts a serious playoff contender once again, and the expectations should be nothing less."

4) How’s old friend Trent Cole doing? What’s the impression of how he played last season and what’s his role going to be like in 2016? How about former Eagles legend Frank Gore?

"Trent Cole didn't have the best season in 2015.  Early in the season, he seemed relatively invisible and didn't have a big impact on the defense whatsoever.  To his credit, he really seemed to make strides late in the year, as he recorded a sack in three of his final five games (his only three sacks of the year) and began to generate more pressure.  He's going to have a big role once again in 2016, but that's more due to necessity than anything else - outside of Robert Mathis, he's their only proven pass rush threat.  I think if Cole plays like he did to close last year, while also finishing some of his rushes (turning pressures into sacks), he could at least be serviceable for a team that is desperate for any pass rush help they can get.

As for Frank Gore, I dare say he's been better with the Colts than he was with the Eagles, though I know that's a big statement to make.  Though he was frustrated with how the 2015 season went and finished with a career-low 3.7 yards per carry, he also didn't have the most help - there weren't a ton of running lanes and defenses didn't have to plan around Andrew Luck in nine of the Colts' sixteen games.  Gore still showed the ability to be a capable starting running back last year, and he should continue to do the same this year.  An exact statistical projection for Gore this year is hard to make, but I fully expect him to be good enough to take some of the pressure off of Luck and the passing game - which is really all the Colts need from him."

5) Did the Colts make the right move by extending the contracts of Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson earlier this year?

"My obvious answer to this question is that we'll have to wait and see, but that Jim Irsay better hope so.  Last year, I went on the record as saying that I thought the Colts needed a change, and I thought that meant getting rid of both Grigson and Pagano.  Nobody thought there was any possibility that Pagano was back, and the only question was whether Grigson would be fired as well.  Instead, Irsay made the absolutely stunning decision to bring them both back and extend their contracts.  While I'm very much in doubt of whether it was the right move, I at least get Irsay's thinking behind it: a huge tenet of the incredible previous era with Peyton Manning was continuity, so Irsay is sticking to the process and trying to replicate that with this era.  Of course, in the previous era he had a Hall of Fame general manager in Bill Polian and a Hall of Fame head coach in Tony Dungy, so that continuity was a no-brainer.  With Grigson and Pagano, they have clear weaknesses, but Irsay is counting on their strengths prevailing.  The bottom line is that I think both men are guys the Colts can win with, but they won't be the driving force behind it.  If they do their jobs adequately enough to let Andrew Luck carry them, I think the Colts can have a lot of success with Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano, but I can't help but wonder whether they could have been helped more by a change.  One other factor I'll mention, however, is that we don't know who the team could have gotten as replacements - because while they can do much better than Grigson and Pagano, they can also do much, much worse.  Ultimately, Jim Irsay made a statement by extending both of them that essentially said that the 2015 season was a fluke and that the Colts can win with these guys.  He'd better hope that's the case."

Bonus: Score prediction? It's only preseason but why not.

"If I'm picking a Colts preseason game, I'm almost always going to pick them to lose (just based on their preseason history), so I'll go Eagles 20, Colts 17."