If the Colts hope to compete for a playoff spot this season, the coming game against the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday definitely falls in the category of a must-win. Every divisional game from here on out will be critical, and even a very strong performance over the back half of the season it may not be enough to catch the surging Texans.
As we gear up for that game, we’re going to take a look at some of the matchups that will undoubtedly shape this contest and determine how it shakes out. Let’s take a look.
Andrew Luck vs Jalen Ramsey
You remember the comment. I remember the comment. I promise you that Andrew Luck remembers it. In case you somehow forgot, or were living under a rock, Jalen Ramsey did a lot of talking about the quarterbacks around the league during an offseason interview with GQ and had this to say about Andrew Luck:
”I don’t really think he’s that good. Him and T.Y. (Hilton) had a connection in the past that made him stand out a little bit more, but I don’t think he’s good.”
Jalen Ramsey is a very good cornerback. It isn’t a stretch to say he is a great one. As far as his scouting ability? Well, don’t quit your day job Jalen.
Let me be clear here: I don’t expect the Colts to throw the ball at Jalen Ramsey a lot. Teams that do end up paying the price. What I do expect is that Andrew Luck will have a better day than Jalen Ramsey does. Ramsey hasn’t faced a healthy Andrew Luck ever, and the version of Luck he did face had his way with Ramsey.
This matchup won’t be the most critical to a win, but it just might be the most entertaining.
Colts Offensive Line vs Jags Defensive Line
This heavyweight bout is one that will decide how this game plays out. In their two games in 2017, the Jaguars racked up 14(!) sacks against the Colts. The Colts have given up just 10 on the season in 2018. Rookies Quenton Nelson and Braden Smith have been huge additions on the line, and Ryan Kelly, Anthony Castonzo, and Mark Glowinski have all played really well. If the Colts can continue to keep the pocket clean and keep Andrew Luck upright against a very good defensive front, it will likely spell problems for the Jaguars and would be a great barometer for the future of this Colts offense.
What’s more, the Colts have put up more than 200 yards on the ground in each of their past two games, and will have an opportunity to continue that because the Jaguars have the 24th ranked defense against the run. This has been thanks to a newly healthy Marlon Mack, but it hasn’t hurt that the offensive line has been blowing open huge holes in opposing defenses and given him room to work. They have done it against two of the worst teams in football, but can they do it against the Jaguars stout defense? If Marlon Mack can put up another 100+ yard game, it will be his third in a row and signal a real and balanced offense that will really open up the playbook for Frank Reich.
Darius Leonard vs Leonard Fournette
Who will come out victorious in the battle of the Leonard’s? Leonard Fournette will likely return to the lineup in an attempt to jump start the Jaguars’ offense, and the guy the Colts will need to step up and help stop him is rookie linebacker Darius Leonard. Leonard is the Colts’ biggest defensive playmaker, and offensively, Fournette is the Jaguars’ biggest playmaker.
If the Colts offense is firing and can take an early lead, they can help negate Fournette’s impact, but they’ll need to find ways to limit his production, and Leonard will be a big part of that. A timely tomahawk chop or at least a handful of tackles for a loss would be big for the game as well as Leonard’s bid for Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Blake Bortles vs the Colts Cornerbacks
Blake Bortles isn’t a very good quarterback. He is inconsistent and makes some pretty poor decisions. He would probably be a very good backup, but is not carrying a franchise. Except for when he plays the Colts. Last year in two games against the Colts he had 639 yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions, an average passer rating of 122.25, and enjoyed two very comfortable victories.
The Colts of the past have let Bortles get comfortable in the pocket, make easy, open, and well-defined reads which allow him to move the ball very effectively up and down the field. This year’s team has done a lot of that same thing for quarterbacks. They play a very loose zone coverage and converge on the ball after the catch to prevent big gains. They made a struggling Derek Carr look like a pro bowler against the Raiders. If that unit shows up, it will be a long day for Colts fans.
They have shown the ability to be opportunistic at times, and that might be a key to keeping the game in their control. If they can get consistent pressure on him and take the ball away, it will be pretty tough for this Jaguars team to get a win.
What about you? What matchup will you be watching?