It's no secret that, in the first half, the Colts offense was humming. Part of the reason for this was the return of Austin Collie, who lead the team in receptions and receiving yardage even though he only played two quarters. He also had two TDs. Peyton Manning's numbers in the first half were 20-27 for 166 yards and 2 TDs. Without Collie, he was 9-12 for 63 yards and no TDs.
So, how did the Colts win? The answer is their run defense.
Prior to Sunday's game, Indianapolis allowed roughly 140 rushing yards a game, surrendering 4.7 a pop. They were an embarrassment. But against the Jaguars, they allowed Jaguars phenom back Maurice Jones-Drew to gain just 46 yards on 15 carries. The entire Jaguars offense had just 67 yards rushing at 3 per carry.
Now, unless you watched the game, the cynic would look at this and start pointing fingers at the Jaguars coaching staff. True, Jack Del Rio is indeed a moron whose fourth down calls once again cost the Jags a key win against Indy, but the gameplan for Jacksonville was no difference than any other successful gameplan they had run against Indy. They didn't forget to run the ball, or come into the game thinking they would throw all over Indy.
The difference between yesterday's gameplan and the one that defeated the Colts back in October was that the Colts defense simply dominated the line of scrimmage.
I don't know how all of you feel about him, but ESPN's Trent Dilfer might be the best NFL TV analyst out there. It's too bad his talents are wasted at the embarrassment that is ESPN. During the NFL Blitz segment, where the loud, talking head clown troupe lead by Chris Berman breakdown the highlights, Dilfer made an excellent point:
Rushing stats are often skewed. A key stat for success running the ball is how many first downs are gained rushing.
Let's apply this metric to the game yesterday.
- The Colts got the ball first and a touchdown one play after Donald Brown broke a 49-yard run on second down. Score: 7-0.
- Jaguars first series, they go three-and-out. The Jags rush twice, get into 3rd and five, but David Garrard is sacked by Robert Mathis.
- For the Colts, they too go three and out. Jags get the ball, and convert a 3rd and seven via the pass, while also getting an extra 15 yards tacked on care of Antoine Bethea's stupid unnecessary roughness play. This drive eventually takes the Jags to the Colts 26 yard line. From there, the offense runs six straight rushing plays that take them all the way to the Indy goal-line. On 2nd and one from the one, Maurice Jones-Drew is tackled for a minus three yard loss. Jags fail to score throwing, and thus kick a Josh Scobee field goal. Score: 7-3.
- By now, Jones-Drew has 31 rushing yards on 10 carries (3 yards a carry). The Jags have converted just one first down off a run.
- Next series, Colts score again. This time, Manning hits Collie off a play fake for a 27-yard TD. Score: 14-3.
- Jags get the ball, and find themselves in 3rd and 6. They throw incomplete, but Jacob Lacey is flagged for interference. 15 yards and a first. The Jags then get into 3rd and, but fail to convert. They then go for it on 4th down and 5 from the Indy 38 yard line. Dumb? Yes, but this is Jack Del Rio. We're not talking 'coaching genius' here. The Jags are then flagged on fourth down for offensive pass interference. Because they converted on the play, the Colts took the penalty. Jags punt. On this drive, Jones-Drew has 2 rushes for 2 yards. No first downs via the run.
- On the next Colts series, they punt. Jags returner Mike Thomas makes an improper fair catch call, but isn't flagged. He then runs the kick back fro a TD. As I said in my recap, blown call by the umpire equals cheap points for the Jags. Score: 14-10.
- Colts get the ball, and on this series Collie is injured. Game goes to halftime.
- After the half, the Jags get the ball first. It is on this series that the game shifted. Collie is out, and the Colts offense is not the same without him. If the Jaguars score here, they likely take the game. However, the Jaguars attempt to convert on two runs, including a 3rd and two from the Indy 38. Both fail. Just like earlier in the game, the Jaguars go for it on 4th down. However, a mistake by David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew, caused in part by line penetration by Colts' end Robert Mathis and tackle Fili Moala, creates a fumble. The Jags are stuffed on the play. Colts ball at their own 38. Indy capitalizes on the mistake by scoring on a 41-yard TD run courtesy of Donald Brown two plays later. Score: 21-10 Colts.
- With roughly 12:09 left in the third quarter, the Jaguars were down 21-3. At this point, Jones-Drew has 42 rushing yards. He had 46 the entire game, which means that, by now, the Jaguars have abandoned the run and start throwing. For the game up to that point, the Jags had converted just one first down rushing the ball.
Now, contrast this with the game played between these two teams back in October.
Just like yesterday, the Colts jumped out to a 7-0 lead. However, on the first series of the October game, the Jaguars had runs of 4, 9, 9, 0, and 4 yards. Again, to start the game, the Jags ran five straight rushing plays, converting first downs on two of them. They would later score on a 25-yard TD run by David Garrard.
The Jaguars had 50 rushing yards on 7 attempts on their first drive that day. Against the Colts yesterday, they didn't have 50 until midway through the third quarter down 21-10.
It's worth noting that the d-line for the Colts this past Sunday was identical to the one that was run over back in October. The linebacking corps Sunday was minus Clint Session (broken arm) and Philip Wheeler (benched for, like, the billionth time). Secondary was minus Melvin Bullitt, Kelvin Hayden, and Jerraud Powers.
So, a defense minus five starters dominates an offense (and an offensive line) that had run them over two month prior. Was it the benching of chronically inconsistent coaches' pet Philip Wheeler? Did the d-line simply decide to wake up and earn their paychecks? Who knows.
What we do know is the run D was arguably the most important reason the Colts won Sunday. If it can continue to play at this level, the level we all expected them to play at since before they were eviscerated in Week One against the Texans, the Colts can compete with anybody.