NFL Nation: Indidnapolis Colts

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

INDIANAPOLIS -- In winning locker rooms around the league, after Sunday game plans unfold just as they were drawn up in meeting rooms, after kickers chase down the ball that sailed through the uprights for the winning points, smiling players often reach for the cliché about it all being a kids' game.

If football feels that way, how about keep-away?

 
  Matthew Emmons/US Presswire
 Jaguars running back Fred Taylor ran for 121 yards in a win over Indianapolis Sunday.

Like anyone facing the Colts and Peyton Manning, the Jacksonville Jaguars wanted very much to allow him on the field as little as possible.

How's 18 minutes 25 seconds sound? How's 3:59 in the second half sound?

The formula best suited for the Jaguars happens, not coincidentally, to be the formula best suited to beat the Colts, 23-21. And that's just what we saw tonight at Lucas Oil Stadium, where Jacksonville converted eight of 14 third downs, ran 48 times for 236 yards and watched Josh Scobee's 51-yard, last-second field goal sail straight into the net.

A team that had struggled in the first two weeks and dropped games at Tennessee and against Buffalo hadn't produced enough first downs, coach Jack Del Rio said. Against the Colts his offense found ways to stay on the field. In the second half, when it needed five yards it got six, when it needed seven, it got eight (twice).

"When we sit on the sideline and our defense is out there and it's third-and-6 and a team gets six-and-a-half or seven, you're like, 'Shoot,' " Fred Taylor said, putting himself in Indianapolis' place. "You're getting ready to go and then ssssssssss, you're deflated."

Manning lamented an interception and a three-and-out that killed the first two of his team's second-half possessions.

Said Colts safety Melvin Bullitt, who started in the spot of injured Bob Sanders: "They just outplayed us, especially on third down. For some reason we just could not get off the field, we were always an inch short... It just doesn't make sense that we didn't stop them on third down. We have plenty of guys capable of that."

Taylor, who accounted for 121 of the rushing yards, spoke Saturday night at a team meeting. He now claims a 3-0 record in games before which he has delivered a pep talk.

"He's going to have to keep talking," Maurice Jones-Drew said.

Taylor, the been-there, done-that veteran, said he delivered only a simple message: "Just move the boulder."

On the team plane, perky defenders might be playing spirited card games. I wouldn't be surprised at all if the offense, tuckered out from following their leader's instruction, is getting a head start on a good night's sleep.

Other things I saw, thought, heard or found out as this tense classic unfolded:

  • Over and over when asked about Marvin Harrison, I referred to training camp practices where I watched him cut with precision, catch with ease and look very much like the elite player he was before knee issues cost him the bulk of last season.

This game was doing much to change my mind. Manning looked to him a couple times on big chances and Harrison wasn't able to kick into fifth gear to go get balls that, if not perfectly placed, sure seemed gettable.

On the CBS broadcast, Dan Fouts suggested that the Colts look elsewhere during their last-chance drive.

But when Rashean Mathis was covering Reggie Wayne out of the slot leaving William James, in for the injured Scott Starks, covering Harrison, the Colts went right at the matchup. And on a fourth-and-2 from the Indianapolis 31-yard line with the game on the line, there it was: a perfect Manning-to-Harrison strike for 27 yards up the right side. It sure looked like 2002.

  • It's great to grind things out and wear a defense down. But a sprinkling of big plays sure can help in the margin-for-error department. The Colts had four pass-catchers with receptions of 24 yards or longer. The Jaguars had one pass play of 26 yards from Jones-Drew, one of 17 from fullback Greg Jones and only four others over 10.

Jacksonville didn't have a reception by a receiver in the first half, which sounds dramatic until you consider that David Garrard completed only four passes before intermission, all to Jones-Drew. It would have been easy at that point to talk about their lack of play-makers on the outside and the missing guys, Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson, who were brought in to aid the cause but are out recuperating from injuries.

But when the Jags needed those catches in the second half they got them -- Matt Jones converted four third downs, Reggie Williams produced a first down and Mike Walker's eight-yard catch put the Jags at the Indy 33-yard line, from where Scobee hit the game-winning 51-yarder.

  • I tried to keep a running tally of how many times Manning was on the ground as the result of a hit. Came up with nine. Game stats had a sack for linebacker Daryl Smith and four other quarterback hits.

Manning looks a bit more shy when he's under pressure, which is understandable considering the protection he's used to compared to the protection he's getting from a patchwork line, which underwent an
other in-game adjustment when Dan Federkeil was knocked out and replaced by Jamey Richard. And Manning is still only nine weeks removed from the knee surgery.

  • Quality information courtesy of Jason Paradise in ESPN's research department: Manning posted a passer rating of 118.75 on third and fourth down while he was only 40.38 on first down and 62.73 on second down.

Also, the Jaguars were hell bent on running up the middle or right. Seventeen of Jones-Drew's 19 carries went up the middle or to the right as did 25 of Taylor's 26 carries.

  • Taylor's third-quarter 34-yard run that set up Jones-Drew's second touchdown was something to behold.

He started right, benefited from a block in the pack that kept Marlin Jackson from getting his hands on him, bounced backwards and headed left. As he turned the corner, he unsuccessfully tried to set up a block by Garrard, then just flew past him and found room up the left sideline where you would have expected there was none.

"That's how long it was?" he said when asked about it. "It felt like it was about 150. Foremost, they slanted that way. Naturally if I see a lot of the different color going that way, I've got to go opposite.

"Fortunately the linemen kept pushing, I was able to hop out of an ankle tackle, went around. David was trying to lead me, that didn't work, and then I just put my foot down and went North and teammates, they just kept coming, showing great effort. Next thing you know I am 34 yards down the field."

Simple, see?

  • On potential controversies: Drayton Florence's hit on Dallas Clark wasn't dirty from this vantage point, though it sure was scary. Looked like shoulder to helmet. Good to see Clark walk off and eventually return. Can't imagine what he'll feel like when he wakes Monday morning.

Yes, I thought the game was over when, with 29 seconds left, Garrard's fourth-down pass for Reggie Williams hit the turf. It was clear on replay, however, that Freddy Keiaho had bumped into him or held him up and was worthy of a flag. On a fourth-and-1 there, though, the Jaguars may have been best off handing off to Jones-Drew or Taylor, getting the first down and using one of their two remaining timeouts.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

On my first stop on my first trip around the AFC South, I asked Tony Dungy about the abolition of the force out-rule judgment. Receivers have to get both feet down in bounds, or passes will be ruled incomplete.

A piece of Dungy's answer made my ears perk up: "I think it'll change where you throw the ball, definitely."

"I think it will be bigger for the offense, just having to understand that some of those jump balls you threw on the sideline and the things right on the boundary may not be completions this year," Dungy said. "But I like the rule. I think it will be much easier to officiate consistently. And you won't have those plays that get reviewed or maybe don't get reviewed -- is it a force out? Isn't it? What constitutes that? I think everyone knows now you have to get two feet down and that will make it easier."

I was surprised that he suggested the rule change could actually impact some play calls, and left eager to see what the other three coaches had to say on the subject.

But Gary Kubiak, Jeff Fisher and Jack Del Rio all lined up on the other side. Each said he don't envision the change influencing any decisions regarding pass plays.

  • Kubiak: "I don't see how much it's going to change. It takes a judgment call out of the game. I think they are trying to make it pretty concrete. We'll see. I think it's one of those things where one year there may be zero that it affected and the next year there may be 15 because you changed the rule, so let's wait and see."
  • Del Rio: "It's a handful of plays over the course of the year. I think it's going to be one of those rules that's going to make a whole lot of sense. We're going to have less confusion. It's pretty clean. You either get two down or you don't get two down. You either get two down and possess the ball or not... As long as there is not a catch and then tackle and carry, he's got to get his feet down. No I don't think it changes the game of football at all as we know it."
  • Fisher: "I think it's a good rule. We [on the competition committee] went back and looked at dozens of plays that were ruled force outs, half of them were and half of them weren't. We went back and looked at dozens that were not ruled force outs, half of them were and half of them weren't. It's a hard play to officiate. So we just eliminated it. You either get the feet in or your don't. It's a reward for a good play if you can get him out of bounds. But there is also an element of forward progress involved, so if the guy is five yards from the boundary and makes the catch, you essentially stop his progress, it's going to be ruled a catch. You're not going to have a situation where you take a guy from here and run him and dump him out of bounds."

Among players, defensive backs certainly feel like a rule alteration has finally gone their way.

"I think it's a good rule," injured Houston cornerback Dunta Robinson said. "A lot of things have gone against us as DBs in the past. To get one of these rules on our side is a good thing. If he's in the air, I'm going, I'm pushing him out, I'm doing everything I can."

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

A quick mid-morning trip around the division. I'll be at the Titans' only practice Wednesday afternoon, then in Jacksonville starting Thursday. What do you want to read about?

Houston Texans

  • Richard Justice has little doubt that Alex Gibbs will transform the Texans' offensive line play. Interesting stuff about how retirement just wouldn't stick for him.
  • The Chronicle's notebook has Gary Kubiak's reaction to Chris Brown missing a second day with a back issue. And tells us the team will look at some running backs, including Mike Bell, and some corners.

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Vito Stellino looks at Dennis Norman, the Princeton guy who's stepping in for injured center Brad Meester. The Jaguars have returned to last season's offensive line configuration -- with Vince Manuwai back at left guard and Maurice Williams at right guard.
  • Stellino also tells us that on the same day Reggie Williams came off the PUP list, he was carted off the field after reinjuring his right knee. More news on his condition will come today.
  • The Florida Times-Union's "observation deck" says Jerry Porter was off his crutches and made his first appearance at practice Tuesday, riding a stationary bike.

Tennessee Titans

  • Jim Wyatt says Chris Johnson thinks he's the last of a dying breed and compares himself to Brian Westbrook. Offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger says he's not thinking of Johnson as situational, that he wants to see him on the field on first and second downs. This makes you wonder who's coming off the field, with LenDale White the obvious candidate. He says he has no problem sharing the rock, recalling his split of carries with Reggie Bush at USC.
  • David Climer looks at Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan. He's going to be a Pro Bowl player, it's just a matter of when.
  • Jessica Hopp examines the Titans returner situations.
  • Jeff Fisher told us yesterday that No. 3 quarterback Ingle Martin will kick field goals Wednesday while Rob Bironas continues to rest a groin injury.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Did I miss something good? What do you need to read about from Colts camp? Hit my mailbag.

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

  • I exchanged e-mails this morning with Drew Rosenhaus and Bruce Tollner, and they confirmed their clients, Quinn Gray and Jared Lorenzen, respectively, have signed with the Colts. Indianapolis now has multiple alternatives to get through practices and the preseason for the duration of Peyton Manning's rehabilitation from knee surgery.
  • The Colts went from one to eight in a day on draft pick contract agreements. Only sixth-round tight end Tom Santi's contract status was unknown Wednesday night, the Indianapolis Star reports. Indy reports to camp by 2 p.m. in Terre Haute, Ind. Though Peyton Manning won't be there, I'll be manning the parking lot, bringing you some quotes and color.
  • Because of all their injuries, Tony Dungy plans to scale things back, especially early.

Jacksonville Jaguars

  • Quentin Groves appears more likely to join the Jaguars on time than Derrick Harvey, according to the Florida Times-Union. Second rounders, generally, do sign before first rounders.

Tennessee Titans

  • Here is The Tennessean's take on Jason Jones' contract, Bryce Fisher's release and hopes for Chris Johnson to be in on time. (Here is my thinking on Jones and Fisher).
  • According to Jim Wyatt, there's little progress on Albert Haynesworth's desire for an out tied to his franchise tender that would prohibit the Titans from tagging him again next year.
  • Big Albert got a ticket for topping 100 mph in March, and appeared in court Wednesday. You can try to judge his weight and fitness, as well as his courtroom demeanor, in a video here.

Random leftover thought: The installation of lights on a Titans practice field means the team won't have to go to LP Field a couple times for late practice. While the Titans hardly have Pittsburgh's turf issues, Tennessee's grass has been a problem late in some seasons. Perhaps a little less wear and tear early will help.

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