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Behind Enemy Lines: 5 Questions with Big Cat Country

Kansas City Chiefs v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

Ahead of the Colts’ week 11 contest with the Jacksonville Jaguars, I got a chance to ask some questions about our opponent from Ryan O’Bleness of Big Cat Country. He was happy to oblige, and here’s what he had to say about them.

1. The Jaguars seemed to find a gem in Gardner Minshew and found themselves in a great situation where they had to decide whether to start their free agent acquisition Nick Foles or roll with the rookie. How do Jaguars fans feel about the move to bench Minshew for Foles and how are they feeling about the outlook of that position?

I don’t want to speak for the entire fan base, but from what I’ve gathered, it was pretty split on what to do going forward. Prior to the loss in London against the Houston Texans -- probably Minshew’s worst game to date -- there was a strong majority that were leaning toward rolling with Minshew and letting him develop for the rest of the season. Then the four-turnover-performance happened and fans seemed quick to jump back on the Foles wagon (check out the below tweet and notice the date differences between the two polls).

As far as the outlook with Foles, I personally don’t feel like it moves the needle a whole lot -- maybe a game or two swing. The coaching staff believes Foles gives the team the best chance to win now, and that’s probably true to some degree, but it’s hard to say just how big of a difference he’ll make under-center. And of course Foles’ big-time contract and presence in the locker room may have played into the decision. With a playoff push on the line in the second half of the season, I asked BCC readers what their expectations were with Foles, and the majority of those who voted tended to agree with me that it may make a slight difference, but the Jags are still likely to miss the playoffs -- and of course this team has issues that go far beyond the quarterback position.

At the very least, the Jaguars have two viable options at quarterback for the first time in a very long time, and this is a good problem to have.

2. This Jaguars defense has lost a couple major pieces since last year in the form of Telvin Smith and Jalen Ramsey. How have they fared without those two?

The linebacker group has been a bit of a mess without Smith. It’s been a problem area for the Jags throughout the season. Myles Jack has been inconsistent as the MIKE, flashing his athletic ability at points and getting burned at other points. Rookie weak-side linebacker Quincy Williams has also struggled with consistency, and he’s been in and out of the lineup with injuries. Najee Goode and Leon Jacobs are other linebackers who play meaningful snaps who have been dealing with injuries. Jake Ryan was signed as a free agent in the offseason, but has yet to take the field and remains on the Non-Football-Injury list, but has resumed practicing. So the position has been a bit of a revolving door.

As for Ramsey, he’s hard to replace and is arguably the best cornerback in the league. With that said, A.J. Bouye has really stepped up as a true No. 1 cornerback and really held his own shadowing one of the league’s best receivers last time out in DeAndre Hopkins. Former undrafted free agent Tre Herndon has stepped into the starting lineup and has played well for the most part. He’s had his struggles but seems to be getting better every week, and is a very promising player for the future. Nickelback D.J. Hayden is having arguably the best season of his career. He is also dealing with an injury, but has truly been solid all year long. The Jags rank a respectable 13th in the NFL against the pass, and they’re a confident group, even without Ramsey.

3. What is this team’s biggest weakness in the 2019 season so far?

There are a few. The team lacks a true No. 1 tight end, and has had a lot of injuries to an already depleted group there. The offensive line has had many struggles and inconsistencies, often allowing pressure to get to Minshew and forcing him out of the pocket (where Minshew actually thrives, though). Football outsiders also ranks Jags as the 24th line in run blocking (although Leonard Fournette has been really good this season). The red zone offense has been abysmal and the team has broken down there often, settling for field goals or leaving points off of the board. The coaching staff hopes Foles will fix the red zone woes. Defensively, the team hasn’t been quite up to par as the previous couple seasons. In particular the Jags struggle to stop the run -- allowing 120.2 yards per game (22nd in the NFL). So there’s a lot to work on.

Atlanta Falcons v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

4. How has the offensive play calling been different this year with John DeFilipo as the offensive coordinator?

The Jags are working out of the shotgun 58 percent of the time, with 87 percent of total pass plays and 77 percent of all run plays coming from the shotgun, according to Sharp Football Stats. In most games (not all), the Jags weren’t afraid to throw it on early downs, even with a rookie sixth-round quarterback at the helm. That changed a bit depending on the opponent, but it was still a welcomed sight for an offense that would dive into the line of scrimmage for two-yard gains on first and second down in the past few seasons. The Jags also used a decent amount of play-action passing concepts, at least with Minshew at quarterback, and did so very effectively. The Jags have not completely abandoned the run, however, as it’s about a 58 percent (passing) to 42 percent (rushing) split this season, according to the Football database. But overall, the offense has been more aggressive under DeFilippo.

5. What matchups are you most excited for this Sunday?

I think the Jacksonville pass rush against the Indianapolis offensive line is going to be key. Both units are extremely talented, but both have been a bit inconsistent. If the Jags get pressure on Jacoby Brissett and are able to rattle him, I like their chances. If he has time to set up, he might pick them apart a little bit at a time. Without T.Y. Hilton, I am also curious to see how the Colts’ receivers fare against Bouye and company.

On the other side of the ball, all eyes will be on Nick Foles as he returns to action for the first time since Week 1. Foles versus Indy’s young secondary is definitely a matchup to watch. The Jags have the distinct advantage of having very limited film out there from a Foles-led offense in 2019.

Bonus: Score prediction:

This feels like a must-win for both teams, and should close throughout.

Jags 27, Colts 24