The Indianapolis Colts are entering the most important stretch of their 2015 season, as over the next four weeks they will face three AFC South teams and look to win the division for a third straight year. First up in that stretch is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who the Colts beat 16-13 in overtime earlier this year and have won six in a row against.
The Jaguars, however, have shown signs of improvement this year. They are 4-8 on the year, and their four wins are already tied for the most in a single season for Jacksonville since they won five in 2011 (they also won four in 2013). Furthermore, their offense has looked better behind quarterback Blake Bortles and wide receiver Allen Robinson. Robinson is the first Jaguars receiver to go over 1,000 yards in a season since 2005, while he's also the youngest player to record a 1,000-yard, 9 TD season since Randy Moss.
It has been the improvement of Blake Bortles, however, that has made the most difference in the Jaguars' 2015 season, as Bortles has greatly improved upon a rough rookie season. Bortles has completed 57.7% of his passes for 3,274 yards (6.95 yards per attempt), 27 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions for a passer rating of 86.8. Bortles is just the sixth quarterback in the past decade to throw 16 more touchdowns from one year to the next (minimum of 13 games), joining Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, and Tony Romo. Bortles has set the Jaguars' franchise record for touchdown passes in a season (27 and counting) and has thrown a touchdown pass in 12 straight games, tying a Jaguars record. He is on pace to fall just two yards shy of tying the Jaguars' single-season passing yards record as well.
Colts head coach Chuck Pagano knows that his defense, which was just torched for 364 yards and four scores through the air by Ben Roethlisberger last week, is in for another test this week. Bortles and the Jaguars offense doesn't compare to Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense, but they still can be dangerous and make plays. Pagano knows it won't be easy and recognizes the improvement Jacksonville and Bortles have shown this season.
"[He's] a lot better," Chuck Pagano said of Bortles on Wednesday. "A lot better. 350 yards a game offensively. The guy is big, he's strong, he's athletic. He's got a strong arm, can make all the throws, makes great decisions, great pocket presence. Like all young quarterbacks he doesn't get flustered back there. Keeps his eyes down the field. Doing a great job running the offense, finding his receivers, getting the ball in the right spots. Good with time, he's accurate, some underneath stuff, the deep stuff. Guys are making plays for him and he can extend plays. He's an athletic guy that when things do break down he can take off and he's not easy to catch and get on the ground."
Sunday is a key game for the Colts in their pursuit of another AFC South title, and if they hope to extend their winning streak against the division to 17 games, they will need to account for an improved Blake Bortles.