The Colts head to Jacksonville for round two against the Jaguars in a game that finds the Jags disheveled and reeling from organizational changes, suspensions, and injuries. While it seems like a game the Colts should almost certainly win, it is a really important one as the Colts work to make the playoffs. It can’t be taken lightly.
I reached out to Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country again to get his perspective on a few questions heading into this game.
This has been a crazy week for the Jaguars as an organization with the firing of OC Nathaniel Hackett, the benching of Blake Bortles, and the suspension of Leonard Fournette. What should we expect to see from this Jaguars’ offense?
The Jaguars -- as both a team and an organization -- are in shambles right now. I have to imagine that all of this turmoil bodes well for the Colts. In addition to all of that, the Jaguars also put prized free agent left guard Andrew Norwell on IR this week, and Jalen Ramsey may miss his first game ever with a knee issue. I really don’t know what to expect from this team, and struggle to talk myself into ways it will even be competitive on Sunday.
Cody Kessler will draw the start for Blake Bortles, which is a necessary, but an uninspiring change. Quarterbacks coach Scott Milanovich will take over play-calling and interim offensive coordinator duties. Most of his coaching experience, which includes being both an OC and a head coach, comes from the Canadian Football League. He also played quarterback in the NFL.
Carlos Hyde and TJ Yeldon are fine replacement options for Fournette, but they’re not Fournette. I wouldn’t expect the Jaguars to completely differ from what they’ve been doing this season -- running the ball and using quick, shallow crossing routes and some playaction, but perhaps there will be a few more wrinkles and concepts added in moving forward, but the fact of the matter is that the Jaguars just don’t have the offensive pieces to make any drastic improvements, and that’s due to both injuries and poor roster construction on that side of the ball. I would expect a pretty conservative game plan to try to get Kessler comfortable.
In the last matchup between the Colts and Jaguars, the defense seemed out of sorts in the first half and then clamped down on the Colts in the second half. How do you anticipate this defense attacking the Colts offense if they want to find success?
That game was a bit out of the norm for the Jacksonville defense. The Jaguars are normally very strong against the pass and not as stout against the rush, but in the first meeting with the Colts, the Jags pretty much shut down the running game, but were carved up by Andrew Luck and Eric Ebron, particularly in the first half. According to Jalen Ramsey, there were some communications issues in the secondary, which caused a lot of the breakdowns.
So, whether Ramsey plays or not, that is obviously something that can’t happen again. Then the Jaguars will obviously need to pay better attention to Eric Ebron and make sure there is a body on him at all times. If Jacksonville can shut down the run again, effectively communicate with each other, take away Hilton and Ebron and not only get pressure on Andrew Luck, but actually finish the play with a sack, then they’ll be in good position. Generating turnovers is a must, also. That probably sounds simple and obvious, but the Jags must get back to the basics of their core identity on defense.
If you are the defensive coordinator and you have to choose between shutting down T.Y. Hilton or Eric Ebron as a major threat in the upcoming game, who are you planning most for?
I am still game-planning against Hilton, however, I know better than to let Ebron roam around free. If Ramsey plays, I would probably shadow Hilton with him, and if he doesn’t I would be confident in A.J. Bouye’s ability to do the same. Ramsey is the more physical cornerback who can press Hilton and has better speed, but Bouye is still probably a top-10 cornerback himself and can handle his own. As for Ebron, I am keeping the speedy Telvin Smith on him -- although he didn’t have the best game in Week 10 -- and I am having him play physical off of Ebron’s release to try to mess up the timing of his route.
Another option would be to play the “Big Nickel” package and bring in a third safety, likely rookie Ronnie Harrison, to cover him. The Jaguars have had their struggles playing zone defense this season, so I am not sure that would be the answer. But to answer your question, Hilton is the bigger concern to me -- especially with the way that Luck is playing this season.
The Jaguars got a ton of yards after the catch against the Colts in the first game and Bortles had a really excellent throw to Donte Moncrief for a big touchdown as well. Is Cody Kessler capable of airing it out like that or will the Jaguars be stuck taking the short throws and trying to turn them into big gains?
I think the jury is still out on Kessler because he has such a limited sample size (248 passes in three seasons), but based off of what we know of him, my answer is no. His career long is 44 yards and that was a catch-and-run by Isaiah Crowell.
He’s not a player that is going to drive the ball down the field, and as I said earlier I expect the Jaguars to have a pretty conservative game plan with Kessler where the team runs the ball a lot and tries to get the ball out of his hands quickly. I read a good article that came from your site actually, breaking down what we’re likely to get from Kessler. Maybe we will be surprised, but I would expect a lot more of the “dink and dunk” offense.
With a season that has inexplicably gone very differently than expected, what is the move that the Jaguars have to make this offseason to right the ship?
It 100 percent needs to be quarterback. Whether Kessler is a viable option or not remains to be seen, and perhaps he can be a bridge quarterback for a rookie who needs to develop next year, such as Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins. Or perhaps Kessler is not the answer at all, and the Jaguars sign a veteran signal caller in free agency, but the problem with that is it’s looking like a very underwhelming group.
Getting into coaching staff and personnel, the Jaguars have to find a good fit at offensive coordinator and one that can keep up with the trends of the modern NFL, while a lot of fans would like to see the team move on from general manager Dave Caldwell. The Jags will obviously need to make a splash there if that’s the case as well. If the struggles continue, defensive coordinator Todd Wash may find himself out of a job soon, too.