How exactly can the Colts follow up their superb 27-7 in San Francisco, the best win so far in the new Colts regime? Well, I know heading to Jacksonville and playing one of the worst teams in the NFL certainly is a pretty good start, which is where the Colts head Sunday afternoon to take on the Jaguars. So this game will be a cakewalk, right? If history tells us anything, it most certainly will not.
The Jaguars are a disappointing 0-3 to start the season, and unfortunately for them there aren't many signs that the struggles have a quick fix. They've started two different QBs already, with Blaine Gabbert starting the opener, getting hurt, and Chad Henne playing the past two weeks, and neither of them really did much to give new Head Coach Gus Bradley confidence that one is better than the other. It looks like Gabbert will be starting on Sunday, but at this point there are so many other holes I'm not sure it matters too much. Known Colt-killer Maurice Jones-Drew is also battling an ankle injury, but he played through it last week, so I'm sure he'll play through the pain again on Sunday, especially in a game much more meaningful than a game in Seattle.
Last year the two teams split their two matchups, with each team winning on the road. The game in Indy, which looked like a second-consecutive game-winning drive for Andrew Luck and the Colts quickly went for naught when Gabbert found Cecil Shorts, Joe Lefeged took a bad angle, and he ran 80 yards for a TD with less than a minute remaining in the game, giving the Jaguars a 22-17 win way back in Week 3 of last season. The Colts didn't mess around in Jacksonville, however, winning by their biggest margin of the season last year 27-10 on a Thursday night, which included a Darius Butler pick-6 in the 3rd quarter.
The Colts and Jaguars have played 24 times over the years, with the Colts holding a 16-8 edge, but have surprisingly lost four of their last six to Jacksonville. Also, 16 of the 24 games have been decided by one score or less, so you've got a 2/3 shot that this game will go down to the end (which, let's be honest, it probably will).
One can safely assume that the Colts have been statistically better than the Jaguars this young season, but just how much better? Let's jump in and see where the game will be won:
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Jaguars (Adjusted):
|Orange Zone Eff||64.9%||11||77.7%||30||34.4%||28||83.7%||32|
|Avg Start Pos||26.1||23||23.7||6||35.9||7||25.5||9|
|3 and Outs||2.51||12||2.91||20||7.42||32||5.50||7|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.024||2||0.020||31||0.339||6||-0.220||32|
Keys to the Game:
- I started with the Defense last week, and they played exceptional, so we'll start there again. The Jaguars appear to be the worst team at sustaining drives, ranking last or 2nd to last in six of the drive stats. Their actual Yards per Drive this year is just 17 yards (?!?), which is quite bad. If we start seeing the Jaguars drive the ball consistently, something is really wrong.
- The one big positive for the Jaguars is they look pretty good at taking care of the ball, but they have had 5 turnovers. The adjusted number is so low because their opponents have been good at forcing turnovers in other games, so the Jaguars don't look as bad there. This has been a big bright spot for the Colts Defense, so I'm expecting a turnover or two. Jacksonville can stay in the game by not giving the Colts short fields from Turnovers, so be sure to watch that on Sunday.
- Because the Jaguars Offense is struggling to move the ball with any consistency, I'd like to see another Field Position day like the Colts had on Sunday against the 49ers. Pat McAfee was a stud on punts and kickoffs, forcing the 49ers to go 40-50 yards, per drive, just to get close to field goal range. I'm pretty confident the Colts will win going away if they win Field Position anything close to how they won it on Sunday.
- You can see the struggles of Jones-Drew and the Jaguars running game here, last in Yards per Carry (2.36 real average), and just a 36% Success Rate. The Colts have been pretty bad stopping the run this year (but still 2-1, surprisingly enough...), so I expect the Jaguars to try and run the ball to keep the ball away from the Colts Offense, even though it hasn't worked the first 3 weeks for them.
- When the Colts have the ball, the biggest mis-match I see is when the Colts get into the scoring zones, they'll need to put up touchdowns. Jacksonville ranks last in Orange Zone Efficiency, and ranks 29th in Red Zone Efficiency, while the Colts have been pretty good in both areas. Score points early, build a lead, ground and pound the 2nd half.
- Like last year the Colts are among the league's best in moving the football, but the Jaguars haven't been half-bad themselves, ranking fairly high in both Yards per Drive and Time of Possession per Drive. Their only chance will be to get the Colts off the field early in drives, as it seems once a drive gets going for the Colts, it's much more difficult to stop.
- The other area that will determine the closeness of the game is on 3rd/4th down, where both the Colts Offense and the Jaguars Defense has been really good. Without having watched any Jaguars football this year, I'm presuming when teams drive on them they aren't getting to many 3rd down plays.
- We might see a penalty-free game Sunday. Both teams among league leaders in both committing penalties, as well as drawing penalties.
Everything here points to a comfortable Colts victory, and Vegas would agree with their 9 point spread. However I've seen enough of these games over the years that I expect the unexpected to happen, the Jaguars just kind of hang around, and the Colts put the game away late. Can also see the Colts surrendering a late TD that makes the game look respectable, even after dominating much of the game. I think the spread is pretty spot-on, and maybe a tick high, but the Colts will win, moving to 3-1 on the season, and getting the all-important divisional win.
Colts 27, Jaguars 21