Last week, the Colts got back on the right track with a win over the Titans, but that still makes this week's showdown with the Jags a must win in the strictest sense of the word. It's always a war when these two teams play, so don't expect anything less this time. With the AFC South title on the line, be sure to watch for:
1. Watch the culture clash. The Colts and Jaguars are built with opposing philosophies on both sides of the ball. The Colts favor small and fast on defense. The Jags favor big and strong. The Colts are a pass first team. The Jags are a run first team. The Colts are looking to speed the game up and score as much as possible. The Jags want to play the game close and tight and hope to win at the end. The Jaguars are under the delusion that a strong running game can still pay off in today's NFL, but it hasn't brought them much success in recent years. Tomorrow's game is sort of a referendum on their philosophy and style.
2. Watch the false reputation. Listening to people talk about the Jaguars this week, you begin to catch a false identity based on a previous reputation. I hear things like "the Jaguars control both lines of scrimmage". There is a myth out there that Jacksonville is good at defense because they were four or five years ago, and no one pays attention to them. The Jags do not control the defensive line of scrimmage. They are actually one of the worst defensive teams in the NFL. The Jags are 30th against the pass, but only 21st against the run. On defense, they literally do nothing well. Their only skill is that they are 15th in the league against defending #2 WRs, and they are good against short yardage runs, though bad at all other runs. They are just flat bad on defense.
3. Watch the one true advantage. The Jags have a massive edge at special teams. Aside from the cannon leg of Josh Scobee, they are excellent at kick and punt coverage. However, they are just average on returns, and the Colts are fairly competent at covering kicks and punts. Watch for a lot of touch backs and zero yard returns for the Colts however. Fans will be clamoring for Dom Rhodes to return kicks, but honestly, it won't make any difference.
4. Watch for the new dimension. With Austin Collie returning from his concussion, the Colts should be able to get the intermediate passing game working. Recently, the offense has become lots of short passes, and hope to hit a bomb. WIth Collie back in the slot, the Colts ought to be able to hit a lot more 10-20 yard throws. He'll command more respect from the Jags than Blair White would. Collie should draw a lot of coverage from corner David Jones in the nickle. Jones was torched by Manning and Wayne for 196 yards in the first meeting.
5. Watch for hearing damage. The crowd is going to be loud tomorrow. I have no doubt that Colts fans will man up and shout down the Jacksonville offense. I expect to see some false starts and stupid penalties from the Jags. In fact, this could well make all the difference. The Jaguars need to stay in running downs, and extra penalties could turn runs into passes and that's a good thing for the Colts.
6. Watch the matchup. Manning loves to find a matchup that he likes and exploit it. The Jags are a terrible cover team. Rashean Mathis is not having a good year, and he'll be lined up against a resurgent Pierre Garcon. I have a feeling we'll see Garcon set him up with some early curls and outs, but watch for that deep ball over the top. It'll be coming around the second quarter.
7. Watch the long drive. The Jags have had the fewest three and outs in the NFL. They want to plod along, picking up first downs. In the first matchup, the Colts only saw the ball 8 times, four in each half. They scored on half their possessions, but it wasn't enough. This is the formula the Jags want to employ. Even if they can't score on a drive, they want to try and play a field position game. The Colts may well get some stops, but if they do, the offense will have to respond with long drives to flip the field position. The Jags want long drives time wise, and the Colts want long drives yardage wise.
8. Watch the option. One of the reasons the Jags annoy me is their lame option play. A professional coordinator ought to be able to find a way to stop an option. Garrard will boot leg and try and force the edge defender to choose between him and MJD on the flip. I know the right play is to stop Jones-Drew, but I get the feeling that if the linebacker just said, "Screw it." and took the chance to plant his helmet into Garrard's ribs as hard as he possibly could, maybe the Jags wouldn't run that stupid play so much.
9. Watch the lack of presence. David Garrard will take a bad sack. Jags QBs have gone down 31 times this year, more than two a game. In the first meeting, he completed 17 of 23 passes and didn't go down once. That can't happen again. We need Freeney and Mathis to come up with the big hits and to pry the ball loose. Watch the third downs between the Indy 40 and 25. That's the key time to get after Garrard and turn possible scoring drives into punts or very long field goal tries.
10. Watch the idiot. Del Rio will screw up. He does it every game. He's one of the worst coaches in the NFL, and the fact that he still has a job is an embarrassment to the city of Jacksonville. I dislike him because he's installed this 'tough guy' mindset in the Jags that means lots of preening, posturing, and very little winning. He's won one playoff game in eight years. He routinely rips his best players. I despise him and root against him in every game.
11. Watch the meme. The Jags are a team on the rise! The Colts are in decline! It's utter nonsense. The Jags have a 32 year old QB. Their running back already has five years in him. They have one of the worst defenses in football, and show NO signs of improving. I'm glad they figured out a gimmicky option offense and won a bunch of fluky games, but next year they'll fall right back to the 5-6 win range. As for the Colts, there's nothing fundamentally, structurally wrong with the team. They just have had a horrible run of freakish injuries. Tomorrow's game isn't a torch passing. It's just what happens when one team has incredibly good luck and another has incredibly bad luck.
12. Watch the run. It's more than just MJD. It's also Rashad Jennings averaging 7 yards a run. It's David Garrard scrambling on the option play. For the Jags, if the ball is in the air, something is wrong. They are second in the NFL in rushing yards and attempts, and you can be sure they want to run the ball 35-40 times. Last week they fell behind by 10 to the Raiders and still kept running, so don't count on a big league to help the Colts defense. It's going to be a lot of banging. The Jags know that Aaron Francisco is terrible and they'll try to run right at him.
13. Watch for luck. You know how turnovers are a major indicator of success? The Jags are 30th in the NFL turnover differential. Every day this week, I've honestly searched for what it is that the Jags are really good at. I thought, "Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they are good in some way." They aren't. They are simply not a good football team. In so many ways, the Jags are much closer to the Houston Texans and Detroit Lions than a real playoff contender. The odds ought to even out and the ball should bounce the Colts' way, but there's no controlling these things. The team that gets the break will win the game.
14. Watch for 'balance'. A weird myth about the Colts win at Tennessee developed after the game. Somehow, the idea that the Colts won because they were more balanced emerged. In the first half, they threw twice as often as they ran and scored 21 points. After building the lead, they ran 19 times and passed 12. They only scored 9 points the rest of the game and barely hung on for the win. You win to run, not run to win. The Colts can get balance tomorrow, but only by throwing the ball a ton, building up a lead and then running out the clock.
15. Watch for confusion. The only person more out of sorts on Sunday than Jack Del Rio will be Dan Dierdorf. How can I say with confidence what the announcers are going to be saying? Because I know Dierdorf has never missed a chance to beat dead wrong story line. Man, I wish was going to be at the game if only to avoid the announcers.
16. Watch his last chance. Everyone knows I'm no Coyer fan. I don't like his scheme. I don't think he's done a good job game-planning for the most part. He showed in both New England games as well as the Jacksonville game that he can be had when it comes to scheme. I know it's not his fault if his linebackers don't do what they are supposed to, but I do know they have to have a good plan of what to do when Garrard goes for that pitch. The defense has been a disappointment this year, more often than not. I lay the blame at his feet. If the Colts get blown off the ball and have no answers for the Jags offense tomorrow, I'll be furious.
17 Watch for a limp. I save it for the end, because I don't think it will matter at the start of the game. David Garrard is 'questionable' with a 'hamstring'. I 'think' he'll 'definitely' 'start and play the whole game'. However, if he is slowed up at all, the Colts have to get hits on him. If Garrard goes out, the game is over. We could really use a big break, maybe this could be it.
18. Watch for no tomorrow. Colts Jags games in Indy are always, always close. This one is going to be high scoring. I have no faith in Larry Coyer to answer the Jags offense. I'm sorry to say it, but as bad as I think the Jaguars are (and they are terrible), this is bad matchup for Indy. The Jags are an offense to everything I believe about football. Skill and talent should matter. If passion and desire and pride won football games, I'd back the Colts, but they don't. Unfortunately, I'm afraid only matchups matter. Jacksonville 38 Indy 35 on a 55 yarder by Scobee.