Although I expected a loss last week, I was not prepared to see such a one sided demolition. The Houston Texans beat the Jaguars so bad, if it had been a boxing match a sensible referee would have called the match early. Now this team is far from where I wanted to see them come December The Jaguars season is on the brink, and if they lose this next one we might start to look and talk about ’13…. The good news is the next opponent, our old divisional rival Indianapolis Colts, just started a major rebuilding. The bad news is that this does not mean they aren’t capable beating the Jaguars already. Let’s dig deeper.
The Colts defense has changed dramatically. They said goodbye to the Tampa 2 and everything Tony Dungy created there and installed a 3-4 system which is the trademark of new head coach Chuck Pagano who it very successfully in Baltimore. In the past few years the Colts defense was basically Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis as they tried to chase the opposing QB into a sack or an interception. The run defense was always far from perfect. Now the Colts have a very massive front 7 basically with the same players (only Cory Redding came with Pagano from the Ravens to the starting lineup), and are doing a surprisingly decent job against the run. Indianapolis has faced 2 Pro Bowl running backs thus far. They kept Matt Forte of the Bears to 80 yards and only let Adrian Peterson run for 60 yards last week after AP manhandled the Jags run defense two weeks ago. And they are doing this without their best inside linebacker, Pat Angerer. Kavell Conner is doing a decent job in the middle, but the biggest surprise is Jerrell Freeman, who has replaced Angerer in the middle. Since Rashad Jennings is still injured, and the backs behind Maurice Jones-Drew are basically non-factors, all eyes will be on the 7th year player on Sunday. Traditionally Jones-Drew has had career games against the Colts, and they need to establish the run better than they did in the first 2 weeks. For that, Uche Nwaneri and Brad Meester must elevate their game. They must dominate Fill Moala and Antonio Johnson at the line of scrimmage, as they often did in the past. Probably they will have more success later of the game if the passing game can produce a similar performance as we saw from them in Minnesota.
There is a good chance it can happen again. The Colts secondary has issues. Big ones. They have two new starters: former Ravens and part time boxer SS Tim Zbikowski and CB Vontae Davis who came late in the preseason via trade from the Miami Dolphins. Neither of them are playing well so far. Zbikowski has demonstrated why he was just the backup to Bernard Pollard, and Davis is playing terribly. Opposing QBs (Jay Cutler and Christian Ponder) targeted him 11 times; the results: 10 catches, for 143 yards and 2 TDs and a passer rating of 158.3 (a.k.a. the maximum). Davis is clearly not Johnathan Joseph, Joe Haden, or Darelle Revis material; at least not now. Laurent Robinson (who has quietly had a good start to the season) should have a good matchup against Davis. This is also the game where I expect some things from Justin Blackmon as well. He will meet with Jerraud Powers, who is also not having great games thus far in the season. I hope we will see a high YAC (yards after catch) from Justin this Sunday, which was his big thing in the preseason. Their best player in the secondary is clearly FS Antoine Bethea, who is the second best defensive player behind Robert Mathis, and he should be avoided with the pass and the run – do you remember when he stoppedMaurice Jones-Drew by himself at the goal line last season?
Last week Blaine Gabbert had no time to throw. He was chased down every time he dropped back. He’ll play after a glute injury last week. He didn’t miss a beat during practice according to QB Coach Greg Olson and he took 95% of the snaps all week long. The Jaguars patchwork offensive line must protect him way better than they did last week. The Colts have a very dangerous pass rusher in Robert Mathis. According to Jeff Lageman’s observations, he fits the 3-4 system much more as an OLB than he did as a defensive end. He alone has more sacks (3) then the entire Jaguars defense. He also has 12 tackles which means he is a force against the run as well. Further he has some sort of advantage no matter which tackle he will play against. If Mathis plays against Guy Whimper we already know the outcome (2-3 more sacks). Cameron Bradfield might start, but he is not 100% healthy, and barely faced a Mathis caliber player. Even the Jaguars’ best option, Eugene Monroe, has some sort of a disadvantage this time, since he usually lined up opposite to Dwight Freeney (and played rather well against him). But he never faced Mathis yet. On the other side the Colts will start Jerry Hughes who had the look of a big 1st round bust for a while. This year he is playing a little better. Hughes has one sack thus far. If Pagano will match him up against Monroe, he should be a non-factor for this game. One of biggest goals for the Jaguars is to keep Robert Mathis away from Blaine Gabbert. If the Jaguars O-line can do that, the passing game will have a strong day, which could also benefit Maurice Jones-Drew and the running game as well.
So the Jaguars offense has a favorable matchup overall versus the Colts defense. Sadly I think that will be the case for the Colts offense against the Jaguars defense as well. Mel Tucker’s until will face first overall pick Andrew Luck for the first time this season. (Interesting side note: last year they faced first overall pick Cam Newton in the 3rd week as well. He had a terrible game, but the Panthers still left the field with a win.) Luck is playing as polished as expected and does not look like a rookie QB. What’s more amazing is he’s doing it behind a patchwork offensive line like the Jaguars have. He, like Gabbert, has had a great LT so far in Anthony Castonzo, but the rest are either hurt or not that good. Jeff Saturday is gone, so the Jaguars will face Samson Satele in C, who is coming back from a knee injury. The new RT, Winston Justice, has already suffered a concussion this season. Starting LG Joe Reitz is out, so Seth Olsen will start who is not good at all. When Satele was injured last week, RG Mike McGlynn shifted to center and he was not that good. Otherwise McGlynn is among the more physical players of this unit. Since Justice had a concussion, look for Jeff Linkenbach to get some snaps at RT. Overall, based on these things the Jaguars pass rush should produce some QB hits and maybe even some sacks. Luck is very mobile, absolutely not afraid to run for the first down or even a TD in goal line situations. Still since this offensive line is far from being a finished product, it’s time for the Jaguars DEs, especially Jeremy Mincey, to create some pressure on the rookie. Austen Lane might return to the rotation, which could be a boost. Lane’s return will also put a little pressure on Andre Branch who has had tough matchups (Matt Kalil, Duane Brown) thus far. If the Jaguars can’t put pressure on Luck, then they need some big plays from the secondary.
The return of Derek Cox and Rashean Mathis to the starting lineup should help the Jaguars substantially. Mathis has a thing for rookie QBs, often intercepting them in their first meetings (remember when he intercepted Mark Sanchez in the first play of the game in ’09?). Despite losing Dallas Clark, Pierre Garcon, and Jacob Tamme, the Colts still have a veteran presence from Reggie Wayne and the oft-injured Austion Collie. Collie and Luck were a dynamic duo in the preseason, but the young BYU product has suffered yet another concussion in his short career. If he plays he will be a major threat for the Jaguars secondary. Luck also has some new toys this season. He may have the best 2 TEs from this draft class, Dwayne Allen and his Stanford teammate Coby Fleener. Both of them will be dangerous, if we remember how “well” the Jaguars defended Kyle Rudolph and Owen Daniels in the first 2 weeks. Luckily for the Jaguars sometimes the Colts forget to use them during periods of the game. The Colts have 2 rookie WRs in TY Hilton (the Jaguars liked him very much before the draft) and Lavonn Brazill. We also shouldn’t forget veteran WR Donny Avery who had 111 yards against Minnesota. The four and five wide receiver sets the Colts tend to employ could be a problem for the Jaguars even with Cox and Mathis playing outside and Aaron Ross on the field at nickel.
In the running game the Colts have 4 RBs, but have only been using 2 of them to carry the load. The starter is Donald Brown who is often ineffective except when playing against the Jaguars (let remind everyone, he almost alone won the “AFC South title game” back in December of ’10). Other than him, rookie Vick Ballard has been seeing more opportunities. The other two, Delonce Carter and Mewelde Moore are being used as blocking backs. Since the Jaguars have had major issues defending the run, limiting Brown and Ballard will be as big priority as defending the pass in this game. The Jaguars are still missing Daryl Smith who has a profound impact on how well the Jags’ defense plays.
Special teams wise the two teams are very similar to each other. They have both reliable kickers in Josh Scobee and Adam Vinatieri and decent punters in Bryan Anger and Pat McAfee. Their returners are the rookie WRs Hilton or Brazill, nothing special as usual (just like the Jaguars returners).
In conclusion, these teams have a lot in common. And that, quite frankly, bothers me a bit. The Colts are in Year 1 of their major rebuilding project, yet right now they look like the second best team in the AFC South. The Jaguars have been rebuilding since ’09, but because of some key injuries and lack of execution on offense and defense, they are 0-2. it shouldn’t be the case. The Jaguars should go into this game as a clear favorite, yet I think 90% of the media and most of the fans are expecting a Colts win on Sunday. Not to mention the emotional boost the Colts will get, with former great RB Edgerrin James being inducted into the Colts Ring of honor (Fred Taylor might give that boost next week for the Jaguars). The Colts will be fired up for sure. They can go above .500 for the first time since the post Manning era which really started in ’11. These are all huge motivators.
And the Jaguars? What is left for them? Well basically everything is on the line. They need to save their season once again in September, like they did 2 years ago with Scobee’s 59 yard FG. If they start 0-3, there is no way the Jaguars will become a playoff contender later, so the season is basically over. Let remind everyone this is the “easy” part off the schedule. Soon the Jaguars will play against the Bears, Packers, Raiders in Oakland (the Jaguars have had major issues traveling to the West Coast the last few years), Lions, Texans at Houston, Jets, and Patriots. These are 7 games, which the Jaguars could easily lose. They will lose at least 4-5 of them. Add that to a 0-3 start and they are already .500 at best. If they win on Sunday, they might have the momentum back and that should help go for .500 next week vs. the Bengals. The media will also rip on the Jaguars. The Jaguars will never be their darlings (unless they have a Manning era run for a decade), but this week they remained silent. They add a couple cheap shots, but they knew the Texans would stomp a lot of teams this year. Lose this game on Sunday, and I guarantee you will read and hear articles and pieces about how the Jaguars are the worst football team in the NFL right now. Which will ultimately raise the question – are the Jaguars going into the right direction under Gene Smith? Is this rebuilding a failure? There is a term that Vic Ketchman often used when he covered Jaguars: “Win or else…” If the Jaguars win, we might forget about the topic for a little while. If they lose, however, some people in the front office might start to hear the Wolves howling outside the building. And that is never a good thing…
Prediction: Colts 27 – Jaguars 28
– Zoltan Paksa
As always I want to thank the newly appointed NFL color analyst of The Hungarian Sport TV, Adam Herczeg for contributing to this article.