What matters most? The Indianapolis Colts left the field victorious in a key divisional game. It was a must-win and they got it done. With that said, two entirely different teams took the field in the first and second halves, particularly on offense.
Andrew Luck had his way with the Jaguars in the first half. It has been a long time since I have seen the Colts offense so systematically pick apart and embarrass a defense, and even longer since I have seen them do so against one of the best defenses in the league. I expected that the Colts would try to grind the ball on the ground, given that Jacksonville’s biggest weakness was arguably against the run. Frank Reich and Luck had other plans.
The Colts offense generated 29 points and over 300 yards in the first half. The Jaguars defense hasn’t been dominated like that in years.
In the second half?
It all went away. There were two devastating dropped passes, one subsequently picked off. The game plan went entirely vanilla. There was no artistry to the offense, no trickery, nothing to keep Jacksonville off-balance. Indianapolis and Frank Reich made it easy for one of the best defenses in the league after absolutely torching them with aggressive plays earlier in the day.
Honestly, I don’t have a good answer for it. On the one hand, playing more conservatively should reduce the likelihood of turnovers and should allow you to eat more clock. On the other, you’re more likely to win football games when you keep momentum, when you score, and when you keep your opponent’s offense off of the field. In the second half, we did a horrible job of that.
Defensively, the Colts continue to struggle mightily — particularly in the secondary. Quincy Wilson and Arthur Maulet were absolutely abused. This is the second game in a row where it was apparent that missing a starting defensive back has disastrous ramifications. Both Nate Hairston and Mike Mitchell were unable to play in this one and it made Blake Bortles look good.
Maulet was beat for an 80 yard touchdown catch by former Colts receiver Donte Moncrief. Second-year safety Malik Hooker took a bad angle on what could have been a touchdown saving tackle along the sideline. Maulet also missed numerous tackles in space and was targeted by Bortles throughout much of the game.
Wilson looked lost, out of position, slow, and generally ineffective throughout the entire game. He was seen falling down all by himself on a pass that was mercifully thrown over the intended target and out of bounds in the fourth quarter. His six tackles were almost exclusively on completions he allowed and had to run down.
The secondary didn’t get a lot of help from the pass rush, which we will get to, but if this unit can’t stay healthy or Matt Eberflus cannot find a way to fix the problems, it will take the league’s best offense to beat any opponent the rest of the season.
Let’s revisit the keys to the game.
KEEP THE JAGS DEFENSE ON THE FIELD
While this didn’t matter in the first half because the offense was scoring at will, the team did control the ball for more than 16 minutes in the first two quarters. The Jaguars defense was unable to slow Indianapolis down and was forced to keep taking punches wherever and whenever Luck and Reich wanted to throw them.
In the second half, this mattered a lot. The Colts defense was disappointing in the first half, giving up big plays that allowed Jacksonville to stay in the game. In the second half, they were asked to stay on the field for over 21 minutes. The offense didn’t score a point, and three of their drives were one minute and thirty seconds or less of actual game time.
It is true that the Tampa 2 defensive scheme is bend but don’t break and will sometimes result in large, clock-eating drives. However, the offense did nothing to help give the defense a break and they’re lucky it didn’t come back to haunt them.
PRESSURE BLAKE BORTLES
While it would be inaccurate to claim that Blake Bortles was never pressured in the game, it took far too long and the pressure was far too inconsistent for the Colts to be happy with the production here. Jabaal Sheard does not have impressive sack numbers on the year but regularly bothered Bortles in the fourth quarter.
Rookie Tyquan Lewis was playing in his first NFL game and just returned from the injured reserve. Expecting him to look like a Pro Bowler would be ridiculously unrealistic. However, he did manage to have an impact on the game by knocking a Bortles throw off of the mark as he tried to complete his throwing motion. The incomplete pass led to fourth down and a Jaguars punt.
The pass rush would have likely been better if Kemoko Turay was able to play but it still feels like one game-changing player could go a long way to improving the pass defense. There is potential in place. The growth of Turay or Lewis may take some pressure off of Ballard to find a star pass rusher but we need someone who can set a tone on the edge and cause a quarterback to speed up his internal clock every game, on every snap.
We don’t have a player like that today.
TIGHTEN UP IN THE SECONDARY
Bad. Really bad.
Blake Bortles may be the worst or at least the most inconsistent starting quarterback in the NFL. He completed 26 of 38 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. He threw no interceptions and was not sacked. He had 5 receivers with 5 receptions. He effectively dinked and dunked his way to big plays and scores.
The Jaguars best offensive weapon is running back Leonard Fournette. He ran the ball 24 times for 53 yards. The team ran the ball 34 times for 91 yards — 2.7 yards per carry. Jacksonville’s longest run of the day came on a DeDe Westbrook carry for 13 yards.
There was no running threat, and whatever threat the Colts faced on the ground was completely shut down. This nearly wasn’t enough to make up for a secondary who regularly missed tackles and blew coverage.
KEEP LUCK’S POCKET CLEAN
This offensive line has nothing more to prove after its performance against the Jaguars. The running game couldn’t get anything going but the unit didn’t allow a single sack. This is the fourth game in a row, 18 quarters in a row, and the last sack they allowed was against the New England Patriots on an overload blitz concept that no offensive line could ever block.
Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue entered the game with 5 sacks apiece. The Jaguars defense is the most expensive defensive unit in football. Two rookies and a free agent acquisition helped to shut them down. 29 passing attempts, two quarterback hits, no sacks.
WIN THE TURNOVER BATTLE
The teams each had a turnover. Mo Alie-Cox allowed a pass to hit him in the chest, which bounced right into Telvin Smith’s hands. Kenny Moore stripped the ball away from Rashad Greene to seal the victory.
The hope at the outset was for the secondary to improve and the pass rush to be effective. In a game where those keys turn out in the Colts favor, it is more likely to pick off a froced and rushed Bortles pass to gain the advantage. Unfortunately, the Colts were not particularly effective in these areas.
IT is worth noting that this could have easily been the key to the game if Moore hadn’t forced a fumble on Jacksonville’s final drive. If he doesn’t strip the ball, the game would have likely been determine in overtime.