The Indianapolis Colts are road favorites to get their first win of the NFL season Sunday at Jacksonville. Here are five Colts keys.
1. Balanced offense — They threw the ball too much at Denver then ran the ball too much against Philadelphia, so the Colts need to strike a balance between the two against a Jaguars defense that has allowed 74 points in two games. It shouldn’t be a problem. Both should work. What should be important is the Colts utilizing all of their offensive weapons. In addition to running the ball effectively against the Eagles, Andrew Luck threw five passes to running back Ahmad Bradshaw and another to running back Trent Richardson. They were effective, but what about tight end Dwayne Allen (targeted once, no catches), wide receiver Hakeem Nicks (targeted three times, one catch for -4 yards). Balance also means throwing the ball down the field at times to stretch the defense. So much of what the Colts have done so far has been short range — just five throws attempted of 20-plus yards — which allows a defense to crowd the box.
2. Blitz early, often — Instead of just saying the Colts need to have a pass rush, let’s face facts after two games. One sack and six hurries suggests the Colts won’t get to the pocket enough if they just play straight up. Maybe it’s possible against the Jaguars, who have allowed quarterback Chad Henne to be sacked 13 times, but the Colts should be able to stick to their identity as a blitzing 3-4 defense and come after Henne. Don’t let this guy have all day to throw, he’s been around enough and can find the open man. But it’s also common knowledge he holds onto the ball too long at times. There’s absolutely no excuse for getting after him, speeding up Henne’s internal clock, and not letting him dictate to the Colts’ defense.
3. Take care of the ball — Turnovers are the great equalizer. While it would be nice to see the Colts come up with a takeaway, they have only one in two games, the greater priority is to not give the ball to the Jaguars and let them hang around. The Colts have four giveaways, three of them interceptions and one lost fumble. That equates to 32 for a season. That’s way too many. They had just 14 giveaways last season, about half as much as the 27 in 2012. Luck has admitted he needs to be smarter with his throws. Richardson, who fumbled twice and lost one against the Eagles, spoiled his best game with the Colts by not wrapping the ball up with two arms, something he promises to do moving forward. It’s fundamental football 101, what every coach and player talks about, but the Colts have to be solid in this area. No excuses.
4. Be smart in secondary — Jaguars rookie wide receiver Allen Hurns has impressed early with six catches for 123 yards and two TDs. Wide receiver Cecil Shorts III is expected to be back in the lineup. While it’s never easy defending pass catchers, the Colts realize these are two key players, so don’t help them out. Don’t commit stupid penalties with arm bars, illegal contact and pass interference. And the smart move is to keep a safety over top of the cornerback defending one of them on most plays. Shorts has burned the Colts before, so it won’t be surprising if Henne goes to him a lot. But don’t help the Jaguars out. Simple as that. Players will make plays, it’s just important not to give up the big plays.
5. Finish the Jaguars ASAP — How many times is it mentioned, letting an underdog hang around can get you beat. Jacksonville will be fired up in its home opener, but the Colts need to start strong and stay on the throttle no matter the score. Last year’s trip kind of fits this scenario. While the Colts didn’t start strong, falling behind 3-0 after one quarter, they scored 20 points in the second quarter and 14 more in the third quarter. Game over, 37-3. Because the Colts are coming off two tough losses to quality playoff teams, this “killer instinct” shouldn’t be an issue. If you’re not ready to play when 0-2, something is seriously wrong.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.