INDIANAPOLIS – The biggest problem with analyzing exhibition games is that although the dropoff 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 happens in these games is massive because there really is no frame of reference for how difficult the challenges these players are facing are, based on their competition.
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, which appeared to suck all the air out of his 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 Bears, Cornelius Lucas doing his best imitation of a swinging gate and Chase Daniel waking up the echoes of another former 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 of 9 for 21 yards through the air with 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 three. Rather than go down for the sack and protect a 27-yard field goal attempt to cut the Colts’ lead to 17-10, Daniel tried to flip the ball to an unprepared 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 down.
Adding injury to insult on a night when 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. Clemmings’ injury appeared serious.
Not avoiding that kind of mistake is exactly why Daniel is earning $7 million a year.
Interestingly, Tyler Bray in the second half looked the best he has since becoming a Bear – 11 of 16 for 136 yards, one touchdown and one interception for an 89.6 quarterback rating – but it is highly unlikely Daniel will not be the No. 2 quarterback in spite of a poor preseason.
After Matt Nagy identified inside linebacker as one of the positions he is focusing on before the final cut, Kwiatkoski appeared determined to secure his spot with four tackles and a sack for a 10-yard loss in only 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 for the Bears’ first touchdown of the game – but it was a ball that bounced right to him in the open field.
We also have to wonder if 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 4-yarder he made four plays later running through three Colts to get to the endzone.
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 importance.
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 finally may have put an end to the Bears’ search for their next placekicker.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.