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Colts call on reinforcements to end losing skid in Jacksonville

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts running back Jonathan Taylor and quarterback Gardner Minshew chat before Taylor’s season debut against the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Bob Scheer-USA TODAY Sports

Indianapolis will present its 1-2 punch with a trio of reinforcements ahead of the Colts Week 6 road trip to Jacksonville, which will decide sole possession of first place in the AFC South.

Without running backs Zack Moss and Jonathan Taylor, the Colts failed to generate any sort of ground attack in the season opener loss against the Jaguars. In Week 5, Moss had a marvelous breakout performance with a career-high 165 rushing yards and two touchdowns to lead the Colts to a divisional win over the Titans. Indianapolis activated the iconic phrase “run the damn ball” to produce a season-best 429 yards of offense in the victory.

Entering Week 6, Moss is among the top three NFL tailbacks with 89 carries, 455 rushing yards and 111.3 rushing yards per game. Moss has converted 24 first downs, which is the second-most among RBs and his 56-yard touchdown was the fifth-longest run from scrimmage by any player this season. Colts offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter mentioned Moss and Taylor carry an exciting element to the ground game.

Gardner Minshew was named the starter for his reunion in Jacksonville in the aftermath of rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson suffering an AC joint sprain in his throwing shoulder. Minshew was drafted by the Jaguars in the sixth round of the 2019 NFL Draft and set a Jaguars’ rookie record with 21 passing TDs in his rookie campaign. Colts head coach Shane Steichen reassured confidence and deemed Minshew the best backup QB in the NFL.

Indianapolis’ offensive line has dominated the line of scrimmage with a 70.5 Pro Football Focus run block grade, second-best in the AFC behind the New York Jets (70.9). Braden Smith has a 85.0 run block grade, third-highest among all tackles. Ryan Kelly leads all centers with a 82.4 pass block grade and Quenton Nelson ranks sixth among all guards with a 79.0 pass block grade. None of the Colts three highest-paid O-linemen have allowed a sack this season.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t point out how good our offensive line played last week,” Cooter said. “I’m super proud of the way they played. They came to work that day, they came to work all week last week. They really showed out with a really good performance last week, which helped those running backs go. I think credit should go all around for that performance. It was a heck of a performance by the offensive line.”

After the Titans’ kicked a field goal on their opening drive, the Colts limited the Titans’ offense to converting 1-for-8 third downs for the rest of the game. Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said during Tuesday’s zoom meeting the defensive front rotation affected the timing of Titans’ QB Ryan Tannehill and forced him to make quick decisions.

“I think we just competed in those situations,” Bradley said. “We had some good fortune come our way. We were able to affect the quarterback. I know we had one sack, but a guy like Tyquan Lewis and multiple (others) affecting the quarterback whether it’s hits or batted balls.”

Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin leads the NFL with 69 tackles and his 27 defensive stops trail only New York Jets’ LB Quincy Williams. Safety Julian Blackmon was named to PFF’s Week 5 team of the week after securing the game-sealing interception and leading his position with a 90.9 grade.

Jacksonville spent the last two weeks in London attaining victories over the Atlanta Falcons and Buffalo Bills. Indianapolis aims to break a seven-game road losing streak at EverBank Stadium in Sunday’s rematch.