The Indianapolis Colts are preparing for their first ever game in London, and they’ll face their AFC South rival Jacksonville Jaguars as they hope to get their first division win of the season and improve to 2-2.
The Colts have historically done very well against the Jaguars, as they have gone 21-9 all-time against Jacksonville. They lost the last meeting in embarrassing fashion as the Jaguars put up 51 points in a 51-16 rout last December, but prior to that game the Colts had won six in a row in the series. The Colts have dominated the overall matchup, but as we know division games are always tougher. This week’s game will have an added dimension of difficulty due to the change in playing overseas, as the Colts are adapting to the time change and the change in schedule. The Jaguars have the advantage in that area, as they’ve played a game in London for several years.
But that’s about the only area where the Jaguars have the advantage this year, at least based on what we’ve seen in the first three weeks of the season. Jacksonville entered the season with high hopes and in fact a number of “analysts” picked them to win the AFC South. But through three games, the Jaguars are 0-3 and haven’t looked good - certainly nothing close to the competitive team many thought they could be. They still have time to turn things around, but they may have to do so without head coach Gus Bradley. With Jacksonville’s bye coming in week five, it’s very, very possible that Bradley - who is just 12-39 in his three-plus years with the Jaguars - will be fired after Sunday’s game, particularly if it’s a loss.
It’s not just Bradley that has been underwhelming, however - it’s also been the Jaguars offense, one that was supposed to carry the team this year. Instead, the unit has dragged them down. That starts first and foremost with quarterback Blake Bortles, who has failed to continue the improvement he showed a year ago. In 2015, he looked to be taking the next steps in his development as he had a good year overall, completing 58.6% of his passes for 4,428 yards (7.3 yards per attempt), 35 touchdowns, and 18 interceptions for a passer rating of 88.2. His touchdown percentage (5.8%) and interception percentage (3.0%) were both fairly healthy, but this year things have reversed. His touchdown percentage through three games is just 3.9%, while his interception percentage has skyrocketed to 4.7%. He’s completed 79 of 127 passes (62.2%) for 843 yards (6.6 yards per attempt), five touchdowns, and six picks for a passer rating of 75.0 - over ten points lower than his mark a year ago.
Bortles has struggled despite the receiving weapons he has at his disposal (Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns provide a nice wide receiver duo), and the Jaguars’ running game hasn’t done much of anything. Their leading rusher, T.J. Yeldon, has just 84 yards rushing this year and has averaged 2.5 yards per carry. As a team (including Bortles), the Jaugars have rushed for 165 yards and a touchdown while averaging 2.8 yards per rush - putting them 31st in the league in both rushing yards and yards per carry. So in other words, with Bortles struggling and the run game doing nothing, the Jaguars offense has dropped off. They rank 26th in yards per game, 25th in turnover margin, 29th in third down offense, and 25th in points per game. They have the second-worst rushing offense in the league and Bortles’ passer rating is 28th in the NFL.
That all makes for a favorable matchup for a Colts defense that is finally at full health. Indy’s defense has not done well overall so far this year, but a lot of that can be attributed to injury - as they’ve gotten healthier each week, their defense has also improved each week. This Sunday’s game will be the first time all year that the Colts have their starting defense healthy, and it will also be the first time that Vontae Davis and Patrick Robinson take the field together. With their secondary at full strength, the hope is that the Colts will be able to keep Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns in check. The Colts’ front seven played very well against Melvin Gordon and the Chargers run game a week ago with the unit back together, and so there’s reason to think they can do the same T.J. Yeldon and a bad Jaguars run game on Sunday too. The Colts surely remember what the Jaguars offense did to them a year ago - putting up 51 points in a dominant win - but the matchup should be a favorable one for an Indianapolis defense that continues to improve and is, finally, healthy.
Of course, there’s one important detail about last year’s loss to the Jaguars that we’ve failed to note so far: Andrew Luck didn’t play in that game. That fact didn’t directly lead to the Colts giving up 51 points, but Indianapolis is a much different team when their franchise quarterback is on the field. And so far this year, Luck has been playing very well: he’s completed 76 of 124 passes (61.3%) for 913 yards (7.4 yards per attempt), six touchdowns, and two picks (his interception percentage is at a phenomenal 1.6%) for a passer rating of 93.2. Through three games, he’s on pace for a 4,869.3 yard, 32 touchdown season with just 10.7 interceptions. Luck has been playing at a high level, even with number two receiver Donte Moncrief hurt with a fractured scapula. T.Y. Hilton helped make up for the loss of Moncrief last week with an eight catch, 174 yard performance while also adding the game-winning touchdown, and Phillip Dorsett and the tight ends (Dwayne Allen and Jack Doyle) have also proven to be threats in the passing game. And last week, the Colts even got their run game going in the first half, as the team has been able to run the ball well enough this year for what they want to do offensively.
The Colts certainly have their issues this year (they’ve yet to look great through three games), and we also don’t know how they will respond to the change of playing in London. So let’s not pretend like the Colts have been a particularly good team this season, but they’ve certainly been better than the Jaguars. Because it’s a division game on the road in London I don’t expect the Colts to put up a dominant victory, but I do think Andrew Luck and company will be enough to put up Indy’s second straight victory and pull them to .500 on the season.
Predicted Score: Colts 31, Jaguars 23