INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
- He’s wearing No. 13: We just thought we’d remind offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski and quarterback Jacoby Brissett. It would be easy to conclude they suffered a memory lapse Monday night in Nashville when the Colts’ offensive catalyst – No. 13, T.Y. Hilton – was rendered a non-factor. He had one catch for 19 yards. Remember? Most distressing was Hilton was targeted on only 4 of Brissett’s 37 passes.
Hilton has an annoying knack of disappearing in games. Yes, he led he NFL in receiving yards last season with 1,448 yards, but that included six games when he finished with fewer than 54 yards. What was unacceptable against the Titans was the lack of opportunities. The last time Hilton was targeted fewer than 4 times when he played start to finish was week 12 of 2012, his rookie season, when he was targeted 3 times against Buffalo.
We’re not suggesting Brissett have tunnel vision and force things to Hilton. But he’s got to get his go-to guy more involved. In the Colts’ two wins, Hilton has averaged 9 targets, 7 catches and 165 yards. In the four losses, the averages plummet to 5.75, 2.75 and 38.75, respectively.
“Do we need to get him the ball and use him? Yeah,’’ Chuck Pagano said. “He’s a great, great player. One of the best in the league. We’ve got to find ways to get him the football. If we don’t, that’s on us.’’
- It won’t be easy: Whatever Hilton or any Colts receiver gets Sunday, they’ll have to earn. The Jaguars meticulously have constructed one of the NFL’s most talented defenses, and that includes arguably the league’s best cornerback tandem. That would be Jalen Ramsey, the 5th overall pick in the 2016 draft, and A.J. Bouye, who relocated from Houston in the offseason with a five-year, $67.5 million free-agent contract.
According to Pro Football Focus, Ramsey and Bouye are the 2nd– and 3rd-rated corners thru 6 games. Consider opposing quarterbacks’ stats when targeting them: 29-of-73, 392 yards, none touchdowns, 4 interceptions, a 34.7 passer rating.
“They’re really good players,’’ Pagano said. “That’s why they paid Bouye to come over from Houston, right? Jalen was a first-rounder. Big, long, athletic, great ball skills, great instincts. They see the whole field. They can run. They’ve got it all.’’
This is hardly a two-man show. The Jaguars defense has been vulnerable to the run – ranked 31st, allowing a fat 145.7 per game – but been downright nasty against the pass. It ranks 3rd in yards allowed per game (166.0), and 1st in sacks (23) and interceptions (10). Opposing QBs have a 60.0 passer rating. End Calais Campbell, another high-priced free-agent acquisition (four years, $60 million), is second in the league with 8 sacks. Ends Yannick Ngakoue and Dante Fowler Jr. have 4 each.
“It’s a great defense; one of the best in the league,’’ Chudzinski said. “They are loaded from a personnel standpoint. They have an excellent scheme. They play it well.’’
- Force Bortles to make plays: Blake Bortles is much like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get. He shows occasional flashes – 244 yards, 4 TDs in a week 3 win over Baltimore – but then reverts to his inconsistent ways. Bortles ranks 26th in passer rating (79.2), 31st in completion percentage (57.1) and 27th in yards per attempt (6.28). The 3rd overall pick in the 2014 draft is 14-37 as a starter, but has split his last four starts against the Colts while passing for 1,056 yards and 7 TDs with no interceptions.
Clearly, Bortles is capable of doing damage against the Colts’ 30th-ranked pass defense, especially if coordinator Ted Monachino is unable to crank up his pass rush (12 sacks).
However, the clear and present danger rests with Jacksonville’s power running game. Rookie Leonard Fournette, the 4th overall pick in the April draft, is the league’s second-leading rusher (596 yards). He leads the league with 6 rushing TDs, including a club-record 90-yarder at Pittsburgh and 75-yarder against the Rams on consecutive attempts.
Fournette didn’t practice this week after injuring his right ankle in the fourth quarter against the Rams, but the Colts expect to see him in uniform Sunday. If he’s out or limited, the Jaguars will lean on Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon.
Dealing with the ground game, insisted safety Matthias Farley is “the focus every week. You’ve got to stop the run. That’s first and foremost. When you do that, it limits an offense in what they’re able to do.’’
- Play 60: We’ve been over this and over this and over this. The Colts are going to remain a major tease until they’re able to put four quarters together. Over the last five games, they’ve had the halftime lead four times and shared the lead in the other. Then, after taking a halftime break, they’ve too often fallen apart. They’ve been outscored in the second half this season 126-44, including 85-22 in the fourth quarter. After grabbing a 19-9 third-quarter lead at Tennessee on John Simon’s pick-6, they were outscored 27-3.
What to do?
“Simple. We’ve just got to finish,’’ Hilton said. “Right now we’re just a 45-minute team and we’ve got to find a way to finish that last 15.
“It starts with me. I’ve got to make more plays.’’
The offense must find its rhythm early in the third quarter to take some of the pressure off the defense. Brissett has been more than adequate in the first half of games, but tailed off dramatically.
Along with getting Hilton more involved Sunday, Chudzinski must find more touches for rookie running back Marlon Mack. He had two first-half carries against the Titans, none in the second half. Losing Robert Turbin for the season with an elbow injury means more work for Frank Gore, but Mack needs to help ease Gore’s workload.
The defense must get off the field on third down 42.9 percent conversions allowed, 24th in the league) and limit gashing plays.
- And the winner is: Jaguars 27, Colts 17. This is no endorsement of the Jaguars as a legitimate playoff contender, even though they’ll maintain at least a share of the AFC South lead with a win. We’ll believe they’re for real when they prove it over the course of a season. As much as this represents the latest “must win’’ for the Colts, they’ve given us little reason – ok, no reason – to trust them. Look for them to keep things close before performing their latest fade.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.