Colts at Jaguars: What to watch for Sunday

Indianapolis Colts

INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday at TIAA Bank Field.

  • Kickoff: 1 p.m.
  • Broadcast: CBS4.

Playoff update: Frank Reich’s foundational motto – Gotta go 1-0 – takes on its ultimate meaning. His Colts either go 1-0 Sunday against the Jaguars, or their season-long journey back from 0-3 and 1-4 starts likely hits a brick wall.

A victory secures one of three AFC wild-card spots, and they could be as the No. 5, No. 6 or No. 7 seed depending on how the weekend plays out. That won’t crystalize until the final game of the 17-game regular-season: the Los Angeles Chargers at the Las Vegas Raiders Sunday night.

There are paths to the playoffs with a loss: A Chargers loss plus a tie when the Baltimore Ravens meet the Steelers in Pittsburgh OR a Chargers loss, a Steelers loss and a Miami victory over visiting New England.

The Colts are looking for their third playoff appearance in four years under  Reich. On the previous two occasions, they got the job done in their final game of the season: A 33-17 win at Tennessee in 2018 and a 28-14 victory over the Jaguars in Indy last season.

History lesson, Part I: To extend their season, the Colts must snap a six-game road losing streak to the Jaguars.

“We don’t play good down there,’’ said veteran wideout T.Y. Hilton, who’s been part of those six losses – five in Jacksonville, one in London. “So we better find a way, or we’re going to be out.’’

The Colts’ last win in Jacksonville: 44-17 in week 3 of 2014. Andrew Luck passed for 370 yards and four TDs and Hilton finished with five catches for 80 yards.

For those keeping track at home, four different Colt QBs have failed during that drought: Luck, Jacoby Brissett, Matt Hasselbeck and Philip Rivers. The Jaguars have won with three different guys under center: Blake Bortles, Gardner Minshew and Cody Kessler.

Oddsmakers predict an Indy rout, installing them as 15-point favorites.

History lesson, Part II: Jacksonville is on the verge of joining a select group, and that’s not a good thing. With a 9th consecutive loss, the Jaguars have assured the worst record in the NFL – 2-15 thanks to the expanded schedule – after finishing a league-worst 1-15 in 2020. Since 1970, only two other franchises have endured back-to-back seasons where they’ve had the worst record or tied with the worst record in the league: the Cleveland Browns (0-16 in 2017, 1-15 in ’16) and Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14 in 1986 and ’85).

The consolation prize? The 1st overall pick in the 2022 draft. The Jaguars invested the No. 1 pick in ’21 on quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Ride JT, but work in Wentz: Jonathan Taylor should be given every chance to add to his MVP-level second season. He leads the league in rushing by 529 yards – a franchise-record 1,734 to Joe Mixon’s 1,205, and Mixon will miss Cincinnati’s regular-season finale after a positive COVID-19 test – and total yards from scrimmage (2,076).

The offense has been and will remain run-centric. That’s how the roster has been constructed with Taylor and the offensive line. Over the last eight games, Taylor has averaged 24.5 attempts and 135.6 yards per game with 12 TDs. Only an early lopsided scoreboard figures to keep those figures down; less of Taylor, more of Nyheim Hines and Deon Jackson.

And here’s where we point out Jacksonville possesses a defense that has issues. It’s 21st in total yards allowed (360.6), 25th against the run (127.1), 16th against the pass (233.5) and 31st in points (27.9). It’s allowed at least 30 points eight times and yielded 50 to New England last week.

The Jaguars have allowed six backs to crack the 100-yard mark – Taylor got them for 118 in week 10 in Indy – and nine 100-yard receiving games. Again, they’ve got issues.

Regardless of the success level of Taylor, the Colts need Carson Wentz to get his act together. His overall season has been a success – 26 TDs, six interceptions – but he’s in the midst of a lull. Wentz has averaged just 169 yards and 6.3 yards per attempt in his last seven games. That’s not enough if the Colts are to make any type of run in the playoffs, if they get in, that is.

The return of Parris Campbell from IR injects another potential playmaker into the passing game.

Limit the suspense: There’s no time like Sunday for a methodical three hours at the office. This is one of those matchups – a team looking to extend its season versus a team that probably just wants the season to end – where it’s imperative to set the tone from the outset. The Colts need to get an early lead and find out just how badly the Jaguars want to play.

Jacksonville’s last win was a 9-6 anomaly against Buffalo in week 8 in TIAA Bank Field. Since then, it’s lost eight straight and been outscored 237-95. During that eight-game stretch – 480 minutes of clock time – the Jaguars have led for 4 minutes, 58 seconds.

Don’t give a 2-14 team a reason to believe.

And the winner is: Colts 30, Jaguars 13. The Colts control everything regarding their playoff fortunes. And, we believe, in this game. If they play at a high level, this one’s over by halftime. If they muddle around, maybe Lawrence makes a few plays and keeps it interesting.

But shame on the Colts – from management to coaches to players – if the road losing streak continues.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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