Colts at Jacksonville: What to watch for Sunday
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday in EverBank Field.
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
- Withstand the storm: And trust us, there will be bad moments. At times, Jacoby Brissett and the Colts offense will face adversity. That’s what the Jaguars defense is all about. It creates disruption that must be dealt with, or else. It leads the NFL in generating bad plays, which is a good thing for a defense. Look at the 41 sacks, 25 total takeaways, including 21 forced fumbles and 11 fumble recoveries. The Jaguars twice have piled up 10 sacks in a game, including on their Oct. 22 visit to Lucas Oil Stadium. They’re the first team since the ’84 Chicago Bears to have at least 10 sacks in a game twice in a season.
“They’re going to make plays, we know that,’’ Chuck Pagano conceded. “There are going to be some ugly moments. But you’ve got to move on.’’
When the so-called sudden change occurs – a sack, an interception, something negative – the Colts must keep their poise and not allow things to mushroom. Remember the last time Indy visited Jacksonville? It was Dec. 13, 2015. The Colts took a 13-3 lead late in the second quarter on Robert Mathis’ fumble recovery in the end zone, and were poised for more when Clayton Geathers recovered another Blake Bortles’ fumble at the Jacksonville 34 with 1:11 remaining in the first half.
But on the next play, backup QB Matt Hasselbeck was sacked and lost a fumble the Jaguars returned 49 yards for a TD. That began an incredible turnaround. After trailing by 10 and on the verge of being pushed into a deeper hole, Jacksonville outscored the Colts 48-3 en route to a 51-16 stunner that snapped Indy’s 16-game win streak inside the AFC South.
There will be storms Sunday. As we mentioned, the Jaguars lead the NFL with 41 sacks. The Colts have allowed a league-high 47, including 25 in the last five games.
Deal with whatever adversity comes. Don’t get overwhelmed by it.
- Shorten the game: Frank Gore needs 49 yards to surpass Jerome Bettis and LaDainian Tomlinson and move into 5th place on the NFL’s career rushing chart. If he doesn’t get there, the Colts have virtually no chance of pulling the road upset.
One of the best ways for coordinator Rob Chudzinski to slow down Jacksonville’s relentless pass rush is with a running game that’s at least competent. Gore is in the midst of the least productive season since his rookie year in 2005 – he’s averaging 14.6 carries and 51.9 yards per game, and 3.5 yards per attempt – but still possesses the wherewithal to move the chains if given the chance.
The problem is, the Colts will attack Jacksonville’s top-rated defense with a seventh different starting offensive line combination and a third different starting center. Mike Person replaces Ryan Kelly, who’s out with a concussion. The Colts haven’t had anything resembling continuity this season and that has contributed to them being flagged with a league-high 19 false starts.
While the Jaguars might be the league’s best at making life difficult for opposing QBs, they have been susceptible to the run. They rank 19th in yards allowed per game (113.1) and 26th in yards per attempt (4.4). The Colts averaged a 4.8 yards per attempt in the first meeting with Jacksonville, but the lopsided nature of the game limited them to just 20 attempts.
We’re not saying run Gore till he drops or go heavy with rookie Marlon Mack. We’re saying stay committed to the run game until the game dictates otherwise.
- Finish drives: We’re talking about finding the end zone, not relying on Adam Vinatieri. If the Colts are going to atone for their earlier clunker against the Jaguars, they absolutely must solve their red-zone issues. Here’s where we remind you they are last in the league in scoring TDs on red-zone drives – 11-of-28, 39.3 percent, including a pitiful 4-of-18 over the last seven games.
Brissett has yet to find his comfort zone when the offense penetrates the 20-yard line. He’s 11-of-29 for 94 yards with three touchdowns and one interception and a 66.3 passer rating.
Jacksonville, by the way, counters with a defense that ranks 4th in red-zone efficiency: 41.2 percent. The Jaguars have faced the fewest red-zone drives (17) and allowed the fewest TDs (7).
- Deal with Fournette: Imagine, the Jaguars dominated the Colts in Indy and were without their rookie running back phenom. Leonard Fournette missed the game with an ankle injury, but he hardly was missed. The Jaguars piled up 188 yards on the ground as T.J. Yeldon filled in with a career-high 122 yards on just nine carries. His 58-yard TD in the third quarter was the exclamation mark on the 27-point whipping.
Well, Fournette is back. The 6-0, 228-pounder is the latest test for a Colts’ run defense that generally has held up against top backs. It limited Pittsburgh’s Le’Veon Bell, the NFL’s top rusher, to 80 yards on 26 carries, and the Rams’ Todd Gurley, the league’s third-leading rusher, to 40 yards on 19 carries.
Fournette’s 765 yards rank 7th in the league and is 2nd among rookies, and his resume includes 90- and 75-yard TDs. But on his other 185 carries, he’s averaging a pedestrian 3.2 yards.
“He’s a special player,’’ defensive coordinator Ted Monachino said. “He’s physical as heck. He can run for speed, long distances. The guy is as good as we’ve seen.’’
- And the winner is: Jaguars 31, Colts 13. We could make up some reasons Round 2 will be different. We won’t waste your time or ours. Do we expect the Colts to play with more fire and be more competitive? Yep. Do we expect it to matter? Nope.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.