Six things to consider in Colts-Jags
December, 17, 2009
By Paul Kuharsky | ESPN.com
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesThe Jaguars will be anxious to see how they measure up against the undefeated Colts Thursday night.The Jaguars have a sellout, so Thursday night north Florida will be able to see a home game for the first time this season. Please hold any NFL Network availability cracks -- it’ll be broadcast by the local Fox affiliate, too.
So here is the big moment for Jack Del Rio’s team, overachievers who have been outscored by 52 points this season but have scrapped, survived inconsistency and positioned themselves at 7-6 to be the AFC’s sixth playoff team.
To maintain that status, the Jaguars must do something no other team has done this season: beat the Colts. A young Jaguars team came close on opening day at Lucas Oil Stadium, dropping a 14-12 decision. Now we get to see how much better the Jaguars measure up against a team they want to emulate.
“Our goal is certainly to become what they are," first-year general manager Gene Smith told me last week. “That’s what we’re striving for.”
A year ago in a Thursday night game in Jacksonville, Peyton Manning clinched his third MVP award.
The Jaguars have struggled to pressure the passer most of the season and hardly have a loaded secondary. As in all games against the Colts, Jacksonville's methods for slowing the quarterback will be a major theme.
Here are half a dozen other things I’ll be watching for or conscious of at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium:
Who benefits from the short preparation week?
Given less time to prepare, I lean in favor of the team with more weapons all the time. The Colts are stacked in that category. I’d rank Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Joseph Addai and Pierre Garcon as playmakers who belong in the “dangerous” or “extra dangerous” category. I’m not sure, even if Rashean Mathis is back from his groin injury, the Jaguars have enough quality defensive backs to slow those weapons.
The Jaguars, meanwhile, have only two players who fit the category based on resume and production: Maurice Jones-Drew and Mike Sims-Walker.
The team that has more to figure out how to defend is at a disadvantage in a short week. I also think the Jaguars were involved in a more physical game in last Sunday’s loss to Miami than the Colts were in a win over Denver.
The company line is they’ll play like usual with some exceptions for guys who are injured. Cornerback Jerraud Powers was on the early list of players who are out, and defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis didn’t practice this week and are questionable. Take the two pass-rushers and a key coverage guy out of the mix and the Colts are hardly the same defense. But Raheem Brock can be productive as an edge rusher and Keyunta Dawson would be in line for his most playing time.
Rookie tackles Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, terrorized in Week 1 by Freeney and Mathis, will be pleased. If they can offer better protection and give David Garrard some time to make good decisions, the Jaguars have a much improved chance.
Before going for it on fourth down came into such vogue this year, Del Rio was already aggressive with it. This season the Jaguars have converted half of their 16 tries.
The Colts have been a very good fourth-down defense this season, especially recently. We all remember the Patriots' failed fourth-down attempt deep in their own territory when trying to preserve a late lead back on Nov. 15.
According to ESPN Stats & Information ace Marty Callinan, Indy has allowed just one fourth-down conversion in 11 attempts over its last nine games.
Houston converted a fourth-and-1 in Week 9. Since then, it’s five consecutive games for Indy without allowing one. In the last two games, the Titans and Broncos each tried unsuccessfully three times.
Overall, the Colts' fourth-down defense has held offenses to a 29.4 percent conversion rate.
If it comes down to a kicker…
Josh Scobee's just 16-of-24 on field goals this year for the Jaguars. His big leg would figure to be the best thing going for him, but he’s only 5-of-12 from 40 yards or longer this season. Jacksonville needs him to hit everything he’s asked to try in this one.
The Colts know they aren’t going to get great distance out of Matt Stover, who’s in his 20th year. He’s hit two of three tries over 40 yards in seven games. Get him inside of 40 and he’s the guy in this game I’d rather take my chances with.
Does MJD miss Greg Jones?
The Jaguars love their fullback, but Jones is out of this game with an ankle injury. That means special-teams ace Montell Owens or Brock Bolen, just signed off the practice squad, will be leading the way for Jacksonville’s best weapon. In seven games against Indy, Jones-Drew has an average of 6 yards a carry, five games of at least 91 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
His eight total touchdowns -- six rushing, one receiving and one as a returner -- are the most against the Colts by any individual since 2006.
The Jaguars are the league’s least penalized team (62), and the Colts are tied for second (63).
Let’s hope we didn’t just jinx that and assure ourselves of a sloppier, slower game.