Continuing the series of “Taking the Division” from last week’s column of What’s Next, we will now analyze the Indianapolis Colts. There may not seem to be any rhyme or reason behind the order I’m choosing the AFC South rivals, but there is. While I’m tempted to leave the Colts to be analyzed next week, I simply can’t see them as the biggest threat in the division any longer. So, rather than getting the red-hot Texans this week, we get the Indianapolis Colts. To find out how we’re going to beat ‘em, follow the jump!
Outside of the Tennessee Titans (covered last week) only one other team has ever won the AFC South, the Indianapolis Colts. And they’ve won it a lot. They have a fearsome offense, an adequate defense (usually), and a kicker with a golden leg. But, unlike in recent years, there are much larger chinks in their armor now. As of late they have been slipping, leaving themselves open for the Jaguars to sweep them this coming year and slip off the throne of the AFC South to join the Titans in a fight for third. So, how can the Jags beat them? Glad you asked. Below are the three keys to success to dethroning the Indianapolis Colts in 2011.
1) Play bend-but-don’t-break defense. What does this mean? Pretty much exactly what it sounds like. Peyton Manning and co. are able to move the ball (surprise), but we’ve got to stop them from scoring. We all know that the receiving corps is grand, we know Manning can still throw a football, and we know that their offense, despite a lethargic running game, can march down the field. But we can’t let them score. Fortunately, this used to be an “identity” of Jack Del Rio’s defense, so we should be able to get back to it (at least in scheme). Even more fortunately, the Colts offense isn’t putting up the numbers they used to. From 2002, Peyton’s third year in the league and the first year of the AFC South, to 2009 the Colts have averaged a point differential of +119 per season. Last season? +47. Now I know it’s a small pool to look at one season, but it’s recent and it showed the most signs of Peyton Manning beginning to look more like some old daddy (maybe with a turbocharged minivan too) rather than the premier passer he once was.
2) Generate turnovers. Point one is very very very hard to achieve without generating turnovers. So, what needs to be done? The defense needs to get their hands on the ball. Best way to do this is to get to the quarterback. Usually. Peyton Manning is a different breed of quarterback however. He is exceptionally poised and even with immense pressure can get the ball off well, plus he was only sacked 16 times last season. But with a bit of a push, quickly becoming a guarantee with TnT, and a good safety and solid coverage from our corners it could become possible to pick Peyton off twice a game. I’m only anticipating this due to numbers. Peyton Manning is sacked 2.3% of the times he drops back. He also throws an interception 2.5% of all attempts. Figuring that pressure, not even sacks, can lead to poor throws (Even for Peyton), and an improved secondary for the Jags (I have faith!) can help as well, it’s fair to assume that an interception may occur around 5% of the times Peyton throws the ball. Which is 33 times a season, or roughly two a game. If Peyton Manning truly is a machine, then the Jags are “guaranteed” two turnovers a game, not counting fumbles. If the Jaguars can hold onto the ball and come out on top in the turnover battle, then the Colts can be put to bed.
3) Special Teams, special teams, special teams. With the new kicking rules the NFL is trying to implement (curious if they’ll still be there when we finally have a season), touchbacks become far less favorable for kicking teams. The Jaguars, fortunately, have one of the best coverage units (I would argue the best, but don’t think I’ll get too bold) and can limit the opposing offenses starting field position seemingly with ease. I know I stated that the Colts will march the ball down no matter what, but having their backs against the wall early on will make it even tougher for them.
Point three is easily the most solid aspect of the Jaguars’ game, except Maurice Jones-Drew, and its a gateway to turnovers. Just as point one relies on point two, point three can bolster point two and thereby help point one (see the scheme I’m building here?). Special teams is a very opportune time for turnovers. You have men flying toward the ballcarrier at top speed, usually the ball carrier is a younger player who happens to be fast and may not have much experience being beaten to a pulp by seasoned Pro Bowl Jags players. While they may get used to the beating, I don’t think they will (no Colt returner had more than 12 returns for the entire season). If the Jaguars can beat the Colts on special teams, as seems probable, it could really help lead to victory. While the points laid out above seem slightly tough to achieve, they are keys to victory if we are to take the division. While I believe it is possible for the Jaguars to succeed in all three aspects above with the current personnel, they should really do themselves a favor and get a ballhawking safety and at least one other very solid linebacker. It would make it all so much easier.
– Luke N. Sims