The Indianapolis Colts won their first game of the season in Week 3 on the road against the Jacksonville Jaguars. A lot has happened since then. The Colts (6-4) had a five-game win streak but have been humbled by Pittsburgh and New England. The Jaguars (1-9) have basically just endured a lot of losses.
The AFC South Division rivals meet again Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium. Here are five Colts keys:
1. Speed up Blake Bortles — The Jaguars’ rookie quarterback made his NFL debut in the second half of the Colts’ 44-17 win at Jacksonville. The third overall selection in May’s draft has shown promise, but he’s also made his share of mistakes. He’s thrown at least one interception in each of his appearances, 14 overall, and has fumbled four times, losing one. The Colts have only one sack in their four losses, so it’s imperative they rattle the 22-year-old passer and force him to throw before he’s ready. Do that and he’s bound to give the Colts’ secondary a chance to catch a few of those passes. The Jaguars have allowed 39 sacks. The Colts are playing without starting cornerback Greg Toler (concussion), but nickel back Darius Butler steps in and is a familiar nemesis. In his first start for the Colts in 2012, he intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown at Jacksonville. Last season, the Floridian returned another interception for a score at Jacksonville. Yeah, the Jaguars remember this guy.
2. Stuff the run — The return of nosetackle Arthur Jones after missing seven of eight games with a high ankle sprain should bolster a run defense that took a pounding in the 42-20 home loss to New England Sunday night. The Jaguars have managed to find a decent runner in former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who has 483 yards rushing, 4.8 yards per carry, with a long of 41 yards and four scores. As his college resume suggests, he’s a speed guy who will need to be boxed in by the Colts’ outside linebackers in the 3-4 scheme. Let him loose and that can spell trouble. Presuming the Colts are stout inside, that should allow inside linebackers D’Qwell Jackson and Jerrell Freeman to do what they do best, run down ballcarriers. The Patriots’ Jonas Gray ran for 201 yards and four TDs on the Colts. The Jaguars were on a bye week and undoubtedly paid attention. The Colts must get stops and keep the run game in check or the visitors can monopolize the clock and keep the Colts’ potent offense off the field.
3. Run the ball well — Andrew Luck is the NFL’s No. 1 passer and the Colts lead the league in total yards, but if ever there was a game to get the rushing game going, it’s this one. The Colts won’t have right offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus (knee, groin, shoulder) as well as leading rusher Ahmad Bradshaw (fractured fibula), but they must create running lanes for Trent Richardson and Dan Herron. An insistence on running the football wavers if backs can’t gain yards because the Colts know they can pass to move the chains. But the Colts rushed for 144 yards on 29 carries at Jacksonville, their third highest run output of the season. Richardson will likely get more carries with Bradshaw gone, but Herron is eager to prove he can contribute. Get those guys going and the Colts monopolize time of possession and wear down the Jaguars defense. And it takes pressure off the Colts passing offense to carry the load, which would be a welcome change from recent outings. The Colts have been unable to gain 100 yards in each of the last three games and are coming off a season-low effort of 19 yards on 17 carries. And Luck gained 15 of those on scrambles.
4. Keep Luck clean — The Jaguars have 28 sacks and with Cherilus out, the Colts will go with either Joe Reitz or Xavier Nixon at offensive right tackle. If necessary, a running back or tight end should be used to ensure Luck has time to throw. The O-line has done a better job at times of giving their quarterback time. The Colts have allowed 15 sacks, including two in the previous meeting against Jacksonville. Nothing can change a game quicker than a sack and recovered fumble, so don’t give the visitors any window to make a big play, create a turnover and hang around. Receivers will be open. Season statistics suggest as much. The Jaguars have struggled to stop opponents. If Luck can connect with T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne and Coby Fleener, among others, it opens up the offense for the run game, too.
5. Don’t give the Jaguars hope — In the previous meeting, the Colts led 30-0 by halftime and Luck was well on his way to one of his best games as a pro, 31-of-39 passing for 370 yards with four TDs. Jump on the Jaguars early and build a big lead. Losing teams often lack resolve when beaten down in such games. The Colts are 6-1 when they score first and have a 70-20 scoring advantage in the opening quarter. They’ve allowed just two first-quarter touchdowns, and both times they lost, at Pittsburgh and to New England. The Jaguars have been outscored just 36-34 in the opening quarter, but 104-37 in the second. That’s by far their worst quarter in terms of points allowed and point differential. And they don’t typically have the ball more than their opponents at 27 minutes, 55 seconds, which means the Jaguars defense is typically on the field too much. The Colts, when successful, dominate time of possession and average having the ball for 33 minutes, 45 seconds. If the Colts haven’t built a decent lead by halftime, they’ve given the 15-point underdogs reason to believe they can pull off an upset.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.