The feel good story meets the disappointing story in the NFL during primetime tonight. The question mark is there, because the Colts might end up playing more nationally televised games if they keep continuing playing so well. That’s the sad part of this matchup. The Colts had 1 bad year, now they are a legit playoff contender. Meanwhile the Jaguars are in the 4th rebuilding year and are a big mess. No matter how bad the Jags have been in the past they tend to play the Colts close. Could they do it this time? Let’s dig deeper.
Well, the Jaguars are horrible at home so far. 4 games, 4 losses. The scoring differential is 34- 126. The closest game so far was a 10-27 beat down by the Bengals in Week 4. The crowd in Everbank Field haven’t seen much of Blaine Gabbert’s progress. Instead, they have seen all five of his interceptions. The offense average is less then 200 yards per game at home (on the road this stat is 110 yards better), while the defense is allowing 445 yards per game, 93 yards more than on the road. You can’t sell tickets with these stats. Actually some fans are trying to sell their season tickets for this year. I bet owner Shad Khan (who said this week that he is sad and embarrassed by the Jaguars) didn’t exactly dream to have an NFL team which plays like this. This is the start of the second half of the season and now it’s clear that many players, coaches and people in the front office (you know who I’M think about) are now working for their jobs. That might boost their chances.
The Jaguars can afford to be a little optimistic about this game since the 5-3 Colts are the only team they have actually beat in ’12. Since the Week 3 thriller the Colts have had some changes. First of all we will see a new coach calling the shots in offensive coordinator/interim head coach Bruce Arinas. Chuck Pagano, who is the Colts HC is battling with leukemia. And it seems that is giving a moral boost to his players. Actually they like their head coach so much that many key players including Andrew Luck have shaved their head for Pagano. Let’s hope they lost some power with it like Samson… Meanwhile the Jaguars O-line (and apparently Blaine Gabbert) are growing beards and mustaches. These two teams are on a totally different course in every way.
The Colts will be without their 2 starting CBs on Thursday night. Both Jerreaud Powers and Vontae Davis is out. That could be a big advantage this time because only Cassius Vaughn is left as a decent CB right now. Darius Butler and Josh Gordy are not the biggest challenges. Since Tom Zbikowski is like Chris Prosinski (reliable, but not exactly better than average) only Anthoine Bethea is left as a play maker from the Colts secondary. The Jaguars can count on every receiver in this game. It would be very helpful if either Laurent Robinson (who looks like another bad and pricey FA attempt to have a legit X receiver) or Justin Blackmon have a breakout game for the home team. This poor secondary could lead to some receiving success (finally) for the Jags. So that could be a good news.
The bad news is that the Colts’ linebacking unit is very, very strong. The tackling machine, Pat Angerer, is back. The other 2 MLBs, Jerrell Freeman and Kavell Conner, have been more than decent this season. Dwight Freeney will play and can match-up once again with Eugene Monroe (who made Cliff Avril a non-factor last Sunday). Robert Mathis is banged up a bit, and he is questionable. If he is out, that’s a lucky break for the home team, since he is by far the Colts’ most dangerous defensive player right now. He has six sacks in just five games this season. If he is not playing look out for Jerry Hughes who has 3 sacks this season. If Mathis plays, Cameron Bradfield needs a little help from Marcedes Lewis. The weakest group of the Colts D is their defensive line. Cory Redding is their best player and he is average at best. Moala and Antonio Johnson are not better either. The Jaguars offense might be able to run the ball against them. Which is big, because other than the first Colts game the running game has been terrible without and even with Maurice Jones-Drew. I think this will be the first game when the Jaguars’ best player will not face his arch rivals on the field. I hope the Jaguars can keep the score close even without MJD.
But onec again, the calling card is on the offensive side for the Colts. Andrew Luck is…well he was what everybody expected. A once in 10 year QB prospect, who has made his team a playoff contender in year one. He threw a rookie record of 433 yards against a really solid Dolphins defense last week. Scary. The Colts have the 6th ranked pass offense with Reggie Wayne (you know the guy everybody thought was done last year) as the current leading(!) receiver in the NFL. Oh and if the Jaguars think they must cover him and problem’s solved, well I have bad news. Luck has plemty of weapons still. Even with Austin Collie on IR and Coby Fleener ruled out, he has TY Hilton, who just had a 100+ yrad game again (he was the best receiver against the Jaguars too). Donnie Avery also reached the century mark last Sunday. Plus there is Dwayne Allen who is also a great rookie contributer for this offense. Bruce Arians brought in Weslye Saunders as a decent backup TE. Meanwhile the Jaguars 2nd best TE (Zach Potter) started at FB last Sunday and other than blocking, he is a non-factor. Once again who is Rebuilding year 1 and who is in year 4 again?….
To make things worse, the Colts are now a decent running team too. Nothing special except Donald Brown is always producing 100 yard games as a runner or a receiver against the Jaguars. We all saw Vick Ballard’s amazing game winner TD against the Titans a couple of weeks ago. Both backs (+ Delonte Carter) are pretty young. So I must say there is almost every tool there to become an outstanding offense for a long time. You know, what the Jaguars failed to archive for a long, long time.
Good news from the Jaguars is that the Colts offensive line is still far from a finished pruduct. C Samson Satele and RT Winston Justice are banged up. The rest (other than Anthony Castonzo) are decent but can make errors, and they are not the best run supporting unit. The Jaguars had a good game rushing the passer in Week 3, and that unit was great on the road in Oakland and Green Bay. Mincey, Lane, Selvie and Knighton must put the pressure on Luck. They must limit Luck in his running as well. Luck is great, but he is still a rookie and can make some questionable throws (like he did against the Jaguars early when Derek Cox picked him off). Mel Tucker’s unit must limit him as much as possible. Also, like the Jaguars, the Colts still can’t play 60 minutes of good football. They have really strong 30 minutes periods, but they can have meltdowns in the second half. If the Colts leading in the half, there is a tendency to have a weaker second half. Since the Jaguars can play 30 minutes of good football this could be useful for Gabbert and company.
Special teams wise, Adam Vinatieri is on the decline. He has missed 6 FGs and tends to have one bad moment or more each game. Pat McAfee is decent like Bryan Anger. The two teams have simailar returners. Nothing special, although once in a while there is a returned TD in this series. Maybe we will witness another one this time.
Look, the season is done. The Jaguars are playing for pride and their jobs next year. Still playing a prime time game could be big. Sweeping the Colts would be at least a little joy for the fan base. The home crowd needs a good game badly. One victory can’t make good the mess we’ve witnessed the last 2 months. It may silence some of the critics though. If this team can’t play well against the Colts at home then we should search for some paper bags. But with a win for 10 days the subject would change a little. The Jaguars would be a little of a punchline. And for 10 days we could stop talking about who the Jaguars draft with that Nr. 1 pick next April… There are very few real opportunities left to make a positive statement, Jaguars. This is one of them. please don’t blew it this time!
Jaguars 24- Colts 21
Once again I want to thank Sport TV’s NFL expert, Adam Herczeg in helping me create this article.
- Zoltan Paksa