It is so good to be writing about actual football again. With a turbulent offseason officially in the rear view mirror, the Colts travel to Jacksonville to take on their divisional foe, the Jaguars. Remarkably, they haven’t won a game in Jacksonville since 2014, the year the Colts improbably got to the AFC Championship game. It is fair to ask if they ever actually got to that game, because performance indicates otherwise, but I digress.
With such an important game right out of the gate, it is time to make some bold predictions about the outcome of this particular contest.
Colts score a non-offensive touchdown.
Given the holes across a young Jaguars defense, I expect that the Colts should find some offensive success. However, it is the Jaguars offense that I have questions about. While they have a fair amount of talent at receiver, their cupboard is bare at running back, and they struggled to open running lanes with the offensive line last year.
With the loss of Leonard Fournette, they’ll be forced to do their best with the backs they have, and that picture isn’t one of a handful of superstars. Chris Thompson and James Robinson will handle the running game, and if that isn’t striking fear in your heart, know that you aren’t alone.
When your offense has to become one dimensional, your best bet for success is to have someone extraordinary at the quarterback position. Unfortunately, the Jaguars instead have Gardner Minshew. He is a player who seemed to maximize his abilities last season, but no one will confuse him with Patrick Mahomes. For a Jaguars offense that will likely be forced into a pass heavy attack, this means a more predictable offense which could very well mean turnovers, and at the very least, a lot of punt return opportunities for Nyheim Hines.
My prediction is that between Hines and the playmakers across the Colts defense, someone is coming home with a touchdown outside the bounds of the offense. It would be a big ask for the season opener on the road, but these aren’t called mild predictions.
Jonathan Taylor tops 100 yards and gets his first touchdown
This is a tough sell to some. Marlon Mack had a very good 2019 and looks on track to start his 2020 season with just as much momentum. While I think Mack has the chance to be a big factor in this game, it is Taylor I’m picking for a big rookie debut. Taylor has a size and speed advantage on Marlon Mack. He is the kind of explosive player who can take big-time advantage of bad defensive matchups, and the Jaguars are not a good run defense. In 2019, the ranked 29th in average explosive run rate. Since that time, they lost Calais Campbell and Yannick Ngakoue. Their defensive line is markedly worse for those losses.
Marlon Mack is more than capable of gouging undisciplined defenses for big gains, but he doesn’t have the power or long speed that Taylor does. I envision Taylor coming in to give Mack a breather and taking big chunks of yards as the Colts offensive line gives him big holes to work with. Jack Doyle at his peak and a player who is still a relative unknown to the Jags seems like a recipe for a big game, and I think this week is when we see it happen.
Tyquan Lewis has a big game
All camp we’ve heard his name. Tyquan Lewis has been a relative non-factor for the team. He’s been the black mark on a top-heavy draft class from 2018. He started 2018 hurt, entered 2019 hurt, and couldn’t get on the field once he’d gotten better. Now he’s back and playing as a rotational guy on the interior.
Working as a reliever for DeForest Buckner at the 3-tech, Lewis has started seeing results. Against the Colts offensive line, he has repeatedly had flashy plays in camp, including besting Quenton Nelson multiple times in one-on-ones. None of that stuff will matter if he can’t translate it to the regular season.
Lewis will be up against an offensive line that is acceptable, and playing against a quarterback who will likely need to throw his way to a win. The opportunity to shine will be there, and with DeForest Buckner softening up the line across from him, Lewis should be able to come in and be disruptive. I’m not predicting he is a defensive player of the game candidate, but if he notches a sack, 4-5 tackles, and multiple QB hits, it’ll be a big deal for a guy who needs to establish himself on the roster.
There is little worse than talking about the kicker. The Colts have been immune to that discussion for nearly all of my fandom, because they have had a long run of excellent kicking. Unfortunately, the demise of Adam Vinatieri was painful and drawn out last year, and now the team is on to a rookie kicker in the form of Rodrigo Blankenship. However talented the bespectacled kicker may be, he’s still a rookie. That means there are likely to be some struggles. As frustrating as it may be, I think we’re going to see them on display early.
I certainly hope we don’t spend much time thinking about kickers, because it isn’t nearly the most fun aspect of football, but I expect we’ll see a couple misses in this game that could be cause for alarm. While this game should not be one that is close enough for it to matter, any kicking struggles could be problematic down the stretch for a team that wants to compete for a championship.
What are your predictions for the Colts in week one?