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Key Colts players on offense and defense: Week 1

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

It has been 6 years since the Colts won a game in Jacksonville, and 7 since they started a season 1-0. This Sunday, Frank Reich and the boys look to put an end to both of those streaks.

The last game the Colts played was, ironically, against the Jaguars in a 38-20 loss. However, the make up of both teams has changed dramatically since that game on Dec. 29.

For starters, the Jaguars run game is completely damaged. After waiving Leonard Fournette just a few weeks ago, and losing Ryquell Armstead to the reserve/COVID-19 list for an undefined amount of time, the Jags will be forced to rely on other backs, none of whom have much experience with the team at all.

The Jags also took big hits on defense, losing both Yannick Ngakoue and Calais Campbell who had major impacts in the Colts week 17 loss last season. Ngakoue forced a fumble in the 4th quarter on Jacoby Brissett and Campbell recovered it for a touchdown making it a two possession game.

I’ll save my breath on the Colts roster changes. We all know about Philip Rivers, DeForest Buckner, Jonathan Taylor, etc…

The purpose of this piece is to offer two players, one on offense and one on defense who I believe will be keys to beating the Jaguars.


OFFENSE

PLAYER: ZACH PASCAL (WR)

You may be surprised that I’m picking Pascal, but hear me out. The Colts have a proven offensive line, and as mentioned above, the Jags lost two of their best defensive players who are both defensive ends. For this reason, I’m not worried about the Colt’s run game.

What I am worried about is the passing game. Philip Rivers is a pass first quarterback, that is his style. He is a very different QB than Brissett. In order for Rivers to be successful, he’s going to need targets. TY Hilton will be up for the task, but what about the other receivers?

Pascal is the obvious key player for this game because the Colts desperately need a quality number 2 receiver. Parris Campbell is heading into his second year and only played in 7 games due to injury, and Michael Pittman Jr. is only a rookie so it would be unfair to put those expectations on either of them for the first game of the season. So, that means Pascal has to be the guy.

When Hilton went down last season with an injury, Pascal stepped up big time and became Brissett’s number one target. He might not be as quick as Tyreek Hill or have hands like Michael Thomas, but that’s not what the Colts are asking from him.

Reliability is key. Can Pascal get open? Can he make the big play? I think these clips will prove he can.

Football is a fast paced game, and if you can’t keep up, you won’t make it very long. There is nothing to write home here about Pascal’s speed or route running in this clip, but it’s his athleticism and decision making that got him the touchdown. I also just couldn’t resist showing a touchdown against the Texans.

To further my point on athleticism, here’s another red zone touchdown where Pascal jumps, extends his entire body, and makes the catch.

It’s all about the reliability, and last year Pascal fit that description. Need to see more of that this year, and I think we will against the Jaguars who have young and inexperienced cornerbacks.

Look out for Pascal in this game. I think you’ll be happy with what you get.


DEFENSE

PLAYER: ROCK YA-SIN (CB)

It should come to no surprise that Rock Ya-Sin is my key defensive player for this game.

Ya-Sin will be taking a much bigger role this season now that the Colts released Pierre Desir. He’s only heading into his sophomore season, but you can expect big things from him this year.

Ascension is exactly what we need from Ya-Sin.

In the season finale against the Jaguars last year, the Colts secondary made Gardner Minshew look way too good. Minshew threw for 295 yards with 3 touchdowns and had more completions (27) than Brissett had passing attempts (25). Not a good look.

Ya-Sin actually had a role in some big yardage for the Jaguars that game, when he gave up a 45 yard reception to Keelan Cole who went on to score a touchdown on the very next play. The question is, how will Ya-Sin fare against better receivers? For example, DJ Chark.

Funny enough, Ya-Sin’s first career interception was against the Jaguars in week 11 of last year. Who was he defending? None other than DJ Chark. Might not be the prettiest INT ever, but it resulted in a Colts possession, and that is good enough for me.

I expect Ya-Sin to make a noticeable jump this season compared to last, and you should too. The Colts need him to live up to the expectations in order to succeed this year.

The big name guys will always be key players, and will always be expected to produce. As long as Buckner, Justin Houston and the rest of the line can hold things down up front, Ya-Sin and the secondary shouldn’t have too much of a problem this game.