After the long week of soul searching which followed the massacre of the Eagles game, its time to look ahead again; and focusing on the next opponent. After 2 sloppy games; the Jaguars are almost in a ‘must win!’ situation. The problem is; the Indianapolis Colts are coming into Jacksonville on Sunday. Although I could make this article very short claiming “Peyton Manning against the Jaguars secondary = Game over”; I took a closer look to the match-ups ; and I saw some chinks in the Colts armor….
Starting with the Colts Offensive line; which is everything but solid these days… LT Charlie Johnson is on the way to return to the starting lineup; but I expect the same effect from him against Aaron Kampman what we saw on the Denver Game; when he played vs. Ryan Clady(who also returned from a serios injury back then). Aaron had 1.5 sacks and 6 QB hits on that day…Of course Peyton Manning has a reputation to keeping the ball for a very short notice; and being someone who is almost impossible to sack; but this year he got hit more often then in the previous years (16 QB hits; 3 sacks). Although center Jeff Saturday and RT Ryan Diem (if we don’t count his false starts…) played so far solid; the Colts are having issues at guard. Starters Jamey Richard and Mike Pollak are just ‘guys’ as well as Kyle DeVan. The Colts are rotating the 3 but that is the only positive about them. If Tyson Alualu and Terrance Knighton can repeat their performance against the Eagles; plus they get some help from Kampman; they can achive 2 things: 1. Erase the Colts running game almost completely (Addai and Brown are both banged up; Brown didn’t practice the whole week). 2. Put real pressure on Manning.
Sadly even if they have an outstanding game; Peyton Manning will make plays. Although we can see most likely 3 new-old faces in the starting secondary (Derek Cox; Anthony Smith and Gerald Alexander- a.k.a. the Jaguars secondary of the end of ’09…); I’m not expecting too much positive difference. Yes the Colts will miss Anthony Gonzalez and most likely Pierre Garcon; but they have still Reggie Wayne; Austin Collie (who have a heckuva season so far) and of course Dallas Clark; the player always have career day against the Jaguars lately. And I raise your attention to rookie WR Blair White too. These weapons will allow Peyton Manning to have another 300+ yards; 3+ TD; 110+ QB rating game. And that alone can decide the game.
But what can the Jaguars doing against it? Well they have the blueprint how to defeat the Colts: run the ball! Maurice Jones Drew and Rashad Jennings must perform very well to have a slight chance to win. Jennings is not a problem; he had so far more then promising season in 2010. Maurice Jones Drew in the other hand didn’t scored a TD (The Jaguars didn’t score a rushing TD in 3 games; which is crazy and makes me scratching my head..); and not had a 100+ yards rushing game. In the past he played extremely well against the Colts and I hope he will continue that series. To have a chance to beat the Colts; MJD must have a 100+ rushing; 2 TD scoring game! Let’s see what Indy has to stop him. Their 2 starting defensive tackles –Daniel Muir; Antonio Johnson- are average (not bad; but not outstanding either) but they rotating them with Mitch King and Fili Moala. Moala so far looked more then good; and his playtime was increased lately. In the LB front WLB Clint Sessions is coming back from injury; which is a bad news because his backups Ramon Humber and Cody Glenn are nowhere near to him. We all now how good MLB Gary Brackett is (although it is a mystery why the Colts don’t use his backup; this years 2nd round pick rookie Pat Angerer; more). The weakest link of the starting 3 is SLB Philip Wheeler who have issues with tackling; Maurice (and everybody else) must target him once they went through to the defensive line.
Speaking of the D-line; the match-up(s) of the day will be ‘Round 3’ of the Freeney-Monroe and Britton-Mathis battles. Last December; Eugene had a statement game against the Colts; he even shut down Dwight Freeney. Eben had a better 1st game versus Robert Mathis; and had a not so good second game against him in the second meeting. Before the Eagles games; both tackles (especially Eugene; although against the Chargers Britton had his best game yet as a pro) has a pretty impressive sophomore campaign. But against Trent Cole and the Eagles pass rushers they both laid a pretty ugly egg. For David Garrard having a chance to bounce back; these 2 must limit Freeney and Mathis as good as they can. For them this game is a big test.
And now we arrived to David. I don’t want to talk about his last 2 games; I think everybody read enough articles about him and the QB situation. I think this is the game where he can get back (or lose completely) his confidence in himself. Protecting him -especially early- is key plus his teammates must do all what they can to get his rhythm. I want to see extra effort from every receiver to make even tough catches if it’s necessary. The Colts secondary is good; especially in the red zone but they’re not unbeatable. Bob Sanders is injured; but Melvin Bullitt and Antoine Bethea are quality starters; but behind them there is nobody! The staring CBs; Kelvin Hayden and Jerraud Powers are very good when they must protect small areas; but if the receiver have enough space; both can be beaten. In Jacob Lacey they have a solid 3rd CB. If the Jaguars receivers can establish the passing game; that will open new opportunities before the running game. If the Colts can’t load the box against MJD; he can have a similar game like Arian Foster had in Week 1.
At special teams; the Colts have serious issues. The Indy return game is traditionally bad (although I still remember the kickoff return TD of Chad Simson last December…). For example their PR is Powers; the staring cornerback. Although as I wrote; Lacey is a very good 3rd CB; if Powers goes down during returning punts (which can hapen) that would mean a lot for the passing game. Also if the Jaguars ST unit can limit the Colts returning game at the Colts 20 yard line or even further; that gave a little bigger chance to limit (up to a point) Peyton Manning. Also I must note Adam Vinatieri has issues lately making FGs behind the 40 yard line. Meanwhile if there is one unit which showed consistency throughout this season; that was the ST unit. Scobee not missed a FG in this season (pre and regular); Adam Podlesh all of sudden look for real. And maybe in this game we will finally see Deji Karim as well. If he is healthy; the Jaguars must use him. Starting field position for the Jaguars (especially now with the issues with David; and partly with Maurice) is more important then usual.
I’m not going to lie; this is a huge game for the Jaguars. If they lose this; they’ll have a 3 game losing streak they will be 2;5 game behind he Colts after Week 4; and will face a serious challenge to be not blacked out on MNF (which would be a huge disappointment). This is it. Its crunch time already. Win this game; and the pressure will lift a bit from the head coach; the QB; the ticket sales. Win this game; and you will have a 0;5 lead before the Colts (despite both team will be at 2-2). Win this game and the national media will stop mocking you. The Jaguars always played there best when the Colts were the opponent. Remember December of 2008; when they were really bad? Even then Peyton Manning must have been played his best to beat this team. Or remember to last December; when the city felt in love with the Jaguars (besides Reggie Nelson) even though they lost to the Colts. Beating the Colts can give that feeling back. It was 4 years ago since the Jaguars left the field with a victory at home versus them (how can anybody forget these numbers:”44-17; 375 rushing yards”?). It’s high time to get that feeling back again – for many reasons. Because if this game will be another ugly loss “or else” week is coming; which may will be even worse then this week was…
Projection: Jaguars 31- Colts 28
(I want to thank Adam Herczeg for helping with his notes to create this article)