Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio made a bold move before the 2007 season, releasing incumbent starter Byron Leftwich and instead going with backup David Garrard. The Jaguars flourished under Garrard that season, winning a playoff game and coming within an undefeated Patriots juggernaut of making the AFC Championship game, with Garrard playing at a Pro Bowl level.
Expectations were high coming into 2008, but the offensive line got ravaged with injuries, the running game suffered, and Garrard regressed and made too many uncharacteristic mistakes. With career backup Todd Bouman, rookie Todd Boeckman, and second-year man Paul Smith behind Garrard on the depth chart, Jacksonville had better hope he returns to his 2007 form in 2009.
Peyton Manning, on the other hand, seems to always be in good form, winning the league MVP in 2008 — the third time he received such an honor — and posting yet another successful regular season on stat sheet and in the win column. Although the depth behind Manning is just as suspect as the depth behind Garrard, the smart money would be on Manning having a bigger year overall than Garrard.
Big Edge: Colts
Jones-Drew has had good success against the Colts, and the rest of the NFL.
AP Photo/Tom Strattman
There was a time when this would not have been a debate and Jacksonville, with their powerful duo of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew would have run away with this competition. Now, the Colts are the team with the exciting running back tandem, since Taylor was sent packing and Indianapolis drafted Donald Brown.
However, Jones-Drew has certainly had more success in his career than Joseph Addai and Jacksonville also drafted Liberty's Rashad Jennings — who ColtPower.com did have quite a man-crush on this spring — which may swing this back in favor of the Jaguars.
With two rookies as backups and the remainder of the depth chart questionable, the edge must go to the team that has the more successful leading man.
Slight Edge: Jaguars
Six of the ten receivers currently on Jacksonville's roster are rookies. One of the veterans is Torry Holt, whose experience and production speak for themselves, but who also is on the wrong side of 30.
Another receiver on the roster is former first-round pick Troy Williamson. All told, the nine wideouts on the roster not named Torry Holt have a combined 100 receptions for four touchdowns for their careers.
There is certainly a great deal of youth and experience behind those two men. But, surely, Del Rio would trade his receiving corps for Jim Caldwell's in a heartbeat.
Huge Edge: Colts
Dallas Clark is one of the most productive and highly regarding tight ends in the NFL and will help to pick up the slack for the experience that is lacking at wide receiver. Along with Jacob Tamme, Gijon Robinson, and Tom Santi, the Colts are deep, talented, and versatile at the position.
Marcedes Lewis had 41 receptions last season for 489 yards and two touchdowns, or about half the numbers that Clark put up. And he's joined on the depth chart by two rookies and two veterans that have a combined 26 receptions in ten seasons of experience.
It's true that Jacksonville considers their tight ends more blockers more than pass catchers, but no one on the roster is as accomplished a blocker as Robinson.
Big Edge: Colts
Both units struggled with injuries and inconsistency last season and both units should be vastly improved in 2009. But, overall, the Colts have more youth, more depth, more versatility, and more talent at all positions along the line.
The Jacksonville linemen are solid run blockers, but they were even ineffective in that capacity for long stretches last season and Jones-Drew was forced to become more of a receiving threat than a running threat.
With Brown and Addai double-teaming opponents, Jeff Saturday and Ryan Lilja in the lineup full time from the start of the season, Tony Ugoh settling in at left tackle, Charlie Johnson and the talented interior linemen the Colts picked up in the 2008 draft, this should be one of the best offensive lines in the league in the coming season.
They'll be the second-best unit in the division, but certainly not second-best to the Jaguars.
There was a time when Indianapolis was strong at the end position, but weak at tackle and Jacksonville was strong at tackle and weak at end. Both teams have spent the past two drafts trying to address those concerns, with the Colts selecting two beefy tackles in Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor in 2009 and the Jaguars picking up speed rushers in Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves in the 2008 draft.
Indianapolis also has Ed Johnson, Antonio Johnson, and Raheem Brock up the middle to go with Pro Bowlers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Jacksonville has Reggie Hayward at end and John Henderson and Derek Landri at tackle.
However, the net of all of these attempts at improvement is that the Jaguars traded Marcus Stroud to Buffalo, while the Colts kept Freeney and Mathis.
Slight Edge: Colts
With Jordan Senn, Gary Brackett, Tyjuan Hagler, Clint Session, Freddy Keiaho, Adam Seward, and Philip Wheeler, Indianapolis has a lot of decent-to-good players at the linebacker position that know their role, fit the system, and will be productive whatever the situation.
It is a unit where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, but it's also a unit with no true game-changing players and no one that scares the opposition with someone that they need to gameplan for.
Although Jacksonville is very green at the position, they have a lot of exciting young players with a lot of potential, lead by Justin Durant, Daryl Smith, and Clint Ingram. The only question for 2009 will be who replaces former Colt Mike Peterson for the long term? Given the talent on hand, the Jaguars most likely have an answer to that question.
This is not a position of strength for either team, but it is a position of stability, as Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson are comfortable in their roles with the Colts and Brian Williams and Rashean Mathis have been the starting duo for quite some time in Jacksonville.
Hayden is a bit more of a playmaker than Williams, Jackson is a bit more steady and physical, but less dangerous for the opposition, than Mathis. And Mathis has been to the Pro Bowl, albeit in 2006.
Where these teams separate is in terms of depth. Both teams have a great deal of youth behind their starters, but Indianapolis has a better track record of turning young players into accomplished fill-ins and eventual starters.
If any of the men at the top of the depth chart went down with an injury and missed significant time — as both Jackson and Hayden did in 2008 — the Colts would be more prepared and better suited to handle it.
Slight Edge: Colts
Del Rio tells Nelson there's no shame in not being as good as the Colts' safeties
Sam Greenwood/Getty Images
Reggie Nelson is a talented player, but can only do so much at the free safety position and will sorely miss strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh, who went to Dallas in the offseason. His replacement, Marlon McCree, is a fair player, but likely won't be able to fill Sensabaugh's shoes.
As the Colts discovered last season, it was extremely difficult to fill Bob Sanders' shoes, but Melvin Bullitt filled in admirably. In addition to one-time Pro Bowler Antoine Bethea at free safety, Sanders at strong safety, and Bullitt, Bethea has a very talented and capable backup in Jamie Silva, not to mention Matt Giordano.
This is not meant to say anything bad about the Jaguars. They are good at safety. It just so happens that the Colts are great.
With Jones-Drew hanging up his returner's spikes for Jacksonville and no one compelling competing for the top return jobs in Indianapolis, that part of the kicking game is a draw. The coverage units for the Jaguars were stifling, but the Colts did quite well for themselves, too.
Two no-name players are vying for the Jacksonville punter's job in Steven Weatherford and Adam Podlesh and two no-name players are going head-to-head for the title of starting punter for the Indianapolis Colts in Pat McAfee and Tim Masthay.
But it comes down to this: 45-yard field goal to win the Super Bowl . . . do you want Scobee or Vinatieri lining up to kick it for your team?
Slight Edge: Colts
Talk about this player in our Insider's Forum!
Follow ColtPower's updates on Twitter!