Behind Enemy Lines: Colts vs. Jaguars
The song remains the same (stop me if you’ve heard this one before): the Colts hung around before squandering a lead and losing the game late, in embarrassing fashion. The newest version of that stanza came on Monday night in Tennessee. Even more disheartening is that short-yardage back Robert Turbin was lost for the season due to injury, and Andrew Luck suffered a setback in his recovery, further delaying his season debut.
Jacksonville comes to town tomorrow, bringing with it a befuddling 3-3 record. Being .500 is not necessarily so confusing as the manner in which it has been achieved: a 21-point victory at Pittsburgh, a 37-point victory against Baltimore, and a 22-point victory at Houston look pretty impressive, but the 21-point loss to Tennessee, the 3-point overtime loss at New York (Jets), and the 10-point home loss to Los Angeles (Rams) make one question what the hell kind of team JAX really is. Are they spectacular but undisciplined? Are they stupendously lucky? Are they breaking through behind a collection of young talent? They may actually be all three.
New head coach Doug Marrone and new executive vice president of football operations (at CompuGlobal HyperMegaNet?) Tom Coughlin have joined general manager Dave Caldwell in making the Jaguars respectable, particularly on the defensive side. Free agent signings Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, and Barry Church have brought an immediate presence to Jacksonville. They pair with recent draft picks Yannick Ngakoue, Jalen Ramsey, and Myles Jack to form a rising unit that is capable of wreaking severe havoc. The Jags have produced a league-leading 23 sacks so far, led by Campbell’s eight. The Colts, by comparison, have produced 12, and their leading sacker is John Simon with three. In fact, Campbell, Ngakoue, and Dante Fowler Jr. all have more sacks than Simon does. They’re scary. Comparably scary is the cornerback duo of Bouye and Ramsey, who have combined for four interceptions and 17 pass breakups. Despite being a punchline in the NFL’s weakest division for years, this team is now a serious contender for AFC South supremacy thanks entirely to their (at times) dominant defense.
Offensively, things are a wee tad dicier. Injuries have played their part, but inconsistency is the name of the game. Star receiver Allen Robinson has been lost for the season with a torn ACL, counterpart Allen Hurns has been up and down, and alleged NFL quarterback Blake Bortles continues to both flash and fail with reckless abandon. Newcomer Leonard Fournette has looked every bit like the fourth-overall pick that he was, ranking second in the league in rushing yards (596). Jacksonville as a team leads the league in rushing yards per game, at 165.83. Incidentally, Jacksonville, Houston, and Tennessee are all in the top five in rushing yards per game (first, second, and fifth, respectively). Good thing the Colts have Al Woods, Jonathan Hankins, and Henry Anderson, huh?
Campbell is the obvious choice, but free safety Tashaun Gipson gets the nod instead. Gipson leads the team with three interceptions, and if Ramsey/Bouye lock down the outside receivers, then more passes could float over the middle toward tight ends and slots. Add some pressure by the Campbell/Ngakoue/Fowler triumvirate, and Gipson could feast on a tipped ball or two. Jacoby Brissett must show patience, accuracy, and guts against this defense, most notably in the second half when things count that much more.
Rookie left tackle Cam Robinson is the man to watch when Jacksonville has the ball. Fournette is listed as questionable with an ankle injury. Backup running back Chris Ivory is serviceable but not earth-shattering. Bortles is who he is. If Fournette cannot go, then suddenly the offense must count on Bortles significantly more than they want to. Robinson would have to hold up against Simon, Sheard, Mingo, and Basham, which may play to the Colts’ advantage.
Fournette plays but is outshined by fellow rookie runner Marlon Mack, who gets double-digit carries and scores at least twice. Rob Chudzinski impersonates an actual NFL offensive coordinator and moves T.Y. Hilton around the field to create matchup problems against a tough-as-nails Jacksonville secondary, and Brissett takes what is given to him.
Colts 19, Jaguars 7.
Thanks for reading, and, as always, Go Colts!
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