Sam Ehlinger got a well-deserved collective round of applause in his NFL debut during the first week of the 2021 preseason as the Indianapolis Colts downed the Carolina Panthers, 21-18.
The former Texas quarterback faced his second test as the Colts went up against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday, securing a 12-10 road victory. Ehlinger completed 8-of-13 passing attempts for 70 yards with two interceptions. He had two carries for 11 rushing yards, not quite looking like the effective dual-threat we saw the previous week.
Jacob Eason, his competition for the backup spot—or starting spot if Carson Wentz is not back to full health in time for the season opener—was 16-of-27 passing for 132 yards without a touchdown or an interception.
This appears to be a small point of regression for Ehlinger, who was surrounded by some concerns about accuracy and consistently taking care of the football ahead of the draft. We have seen a small dose of how efficient Ehlinger can be using his legs and abilities as a passer already this year, as he turned some heads against Carolina when he completed 10-of-15 pass attempts for 155 yards with one interception, also with 30 rushing yards on eight carries.
Ehlinger was the planned starter heading into this one, as head coach Frank Reich announced earlier in the week before the contest. He was benched in favor of Eason after he threw his second interception of the evening with roughly five minutes to go in the second quarter as Indianapolis trailed 7-6.
Both of the picks Ehlinger threw were tipped passes. The one intended for wide receiver Parris Campbell that instead was caught by Minnesota linebacker Troy Dye was especially costly, returned for a touchdown.
But, there’s a small bit of sunshine to be found in this, considering that Ehlinger got right back on the field on the following possession and led his team down the field for a scoring drive that culminated in a field goal. Of course, a quarterback and his coaches want every drive to end in a touchdown, but the ability to play the next play and get back to the proper mindset mentally is an undervalued part of the quarterback position that has a lot of bearing on an individual’s long-term ability to succeed playing the position.
Ehlinger acknowledged the lack of production in the red zone as the team didn’t record a single touchdown—passing or rushing—on Saturday night.
"If you want to be a really successful team you gotta be great in the red zone," Ehlinger said. "And it's something that we work on all the time, we talk about all the time. We gotta be better in that area to be able to — six points is a lot better than three."
Ehlinger has one more chance to right the ship before the regular season begins, as the Colts prepare to take on the Detroit Lions on Friday at Ford Field.
This is still very much a wide-open deal, considering that Eason has not shown to be exceedingly more productive over Ehlinger. Neither quarterback has separated himself, and it’s not necessarily unsurprising to see a developmental rookie prospect like Ehlinger going through some growing pains as he makes the transition.
That’s a sentiment Reich echoed.
"I gotta look at the film to make that determination but my hunch is that we probably need to see another week," Reich said. "My hunch is that we're probably going to need to see another week because I think both guys are doing enough, showing enough good signs. Both guys have made enough mistakes, but that's normal—I mean, shoot, it's hard out there. It's not easy."
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