Jaguars at Colts: What to watch for Sunday

Indianapolis Colts

FILE IMAGE (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium:

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

History lesson

Sometimes you just scratch your head and accept something that makes zero sense. Like the Colts/Jaguars series. Here’s where we remind you Jacksonville is 14-42 (.250) since 2018, tied for the fewest wins in the NFL. The Colts are 32-25 (.561).

Over the past 26 games, the Jags are 2-21 against the league but 2-1 against the Colts. They closed 2019 and opened ’20 with wins over Indy in Jacksonville, then lost 20 straight. They’ve won seven of the last 11 meetings in the series.

Oddsmakers have the Colts as 10-10½-point favorites. Make of that what you will.

“This team has given us problems. We know that,’’ said Frank Reich, who’s 3-3 against the Jags with all three wins coming in Indy. “Not just last year, but the year before and the year before that. That’s why we have a lot of respect for them.’’

History lesson, Chapter 2

The future of Jacksonville Jaguars football wears No. 16. If the franchise is to return to relevancy, it’ll follow Trevor Lawrence out of the darkness. The first overall pick in the April draft ranks second among rookies (to New England’s Mac Jones) with 1,821 yards and eight TDs, but has struggled with consistency and accuracy (59.2%).

Sunday marks the third time since Matt Eberflus took over the Colts’ defense in 2018 it faces a QB selected in the first round and the second time it’s against the 1st overall pick. In ’18, the New York Jets followed Sam Darnold (3rd overall) to a 42-34 victory. Darnold was 24-of-30 for 230 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

Last season, the Colts handled Cincinnati and 1st-overall pick Joe Burrow 31-27. Burrow passed for 313 yards with no touchdowns and one interception and staked the Bengals to a 21-0 second-quarter lead. He had the Bengals driving for the go-ahead TD in the final minute before Colts’ rookie safety Julian Blackmon ended things with an interception.

Another meeting with a rookie QB looms. In week 14, the New England Patriots and Mac Jones (15th overall) visit.

About Lawrence

Defense 101 against any QB involves getting in his face and making him uncomfortable. That’s especially true against a rookie who’ll be starting ninth NFL game.

“It’s always mandatory,’’ defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “You have to get pressure on them. Speed up their thought process up a little bit. Can’t let them get comfortable back there, just really overwhelm them with pressure in the pocket.’’

Added tackle Grover Stewart: “I believe we can get back at him and like scare him up a little bit and have him throw some picks or whatever. We’re gonna shake him up a little bit.’’

The Colts’ pass rush has been inconsistent, especially off the edge, but is showing signs of life. Despite ranking 14th in sacks per pass play, it has at least 2 in each of the last six games and 14 during that stretch. Rookie Kwity Paye has yet to register his first NFL sack, but is coming off a strong pressure game against the Jets when he had a season-high five pressures, including two QB hits.

Lawrence has benefited from solid protection thus far. He’s been sacked 13 times in eight games and the Jaguars’ protection ranks 5th.

Stats to keep in mind: the Colts’ D has a league-best 20 takeaways while Jacksonville has 14 giveaways, tied for 6th-most. Indy has 11 takeaways in the last four games and at least one in 10 straight games, the NFL’s longest active streak.

Jacksonville probably will look to keep Lawrence out of harm’s way as much as possible by leaning on its running game. James Robinson is expected to return after missing last week’s upset of Buffalo with a heel injury. He averaged 76.7 yards per game and 5.5 yards per attempt in the first six games, and was instrumental in Jacksonville’s 27-20 win over Indy in the ’20 opener. In his first NFL appearance, Robinson rushed 16 times for 62 yards and added another 28 yards on one reception.

Remain aggressive/balanced on offense

The return of T.Y. Hilton from a concussion should only embolden the NFL’s hottest offense. It’s averaging a league-best 34.3 points per game over the last four weeks and has scored at least 30 points in four straight games for the first time since 2010. The last time it went for 30-plus in five straight games: 2005.

The offense is operating at a high level because Carson Wentz has a reliable and productive running game at his disposal, and the offensive line is rounding into form. He’s passed for at least two TDs in six straight games and ranks 2nd in passer rating (108.3) and touchdowns (14) and 6th in yards (1,506) during that stretch.

The run game? Vibrant sums it up. The Colts piled up an NFL-high 260 yards against the Jets and averaged a franchise-record 8.7 yards on 30 attempts, and Jonathan Taylor continued to stretch his legs. He had a season-best 172 yards on 19 carries. It was his fourth 100-yard outing in the last six games.

The last time the Jaguars saw Taylor, he was running through their defense. In week 17 of last season, he set a franchise record with 253 yards.

Even so, Taylor realizes he’s in for a tough afternoon.

“Very active,’’ he said of Jacksonville’s defensive front. “They’re going to play through the echo of the whistle.’’

The Jaguars’ run defense ranks a so-so 12th in yards per game (103.4), but is 3rd in yards per attempt (3.79).

Protect, protect, protect

Wentz has been able to go about his business because his protection has been solid. The Colts have allowed just 1 sack in each of the last three games. Wentz’s movement in the pocket has been a factor, but there’s no discounting the steady progress made by the o-line.

Instrumental in the Jaguars’ stunner against Buffalo was their ability to harass Josh Allen from start to finish. They generated four sacks and 20 pressures.

We place some of the blame on the Bills for essentially choosing not to run – backs had 22 yards on just nine attempts – but there’s no question Jacksonville dominated the line of scrimmage. The Jaguars’ Josh Allen had 1 of the four sacks and leads the defense with 5.5.

And the winner is: Colts 31, Jaguars 18

The Colts continue to dig themselves out of that 0-3 hole. They’re playing at a high level on offense, and finding ways to make plays on defense – a league-high 20 takeaways – despite giving up too much yardage. The D has yielded at least 340 yards in seven of nine games. Maybe we’re wrong and the Colts don’t cover the 10-10½-point spread, but allowing the Jaguars to pull yet another upset would be a season killer.

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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