Those days are gone, as Stroud was traded last offseason, Peterson was released following the 2008 season, and Henderson no longer requires as much attention as he once did.
To combat this loss of talent, Jacksonville has spent the past few years stocking up on defensive ends and edge rushers, since no five-man offensive line can double team everyone. Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves were brought in to improve the pass rush and draw attention through the first and second rounds of the 2008 draft, Reggie Hayward was signed as a free agent in 2005, and undrafted free agent Julius Williams is hoping to make a big splash as well.
The biggest issue for the Colts may be protecting Peyton Manning's blind side, as neither Charlie Johnson nor Tony Ugoh have proven themselves to be particularly adept at handling speed rushers such as Harvey and Groves.
For their part, though, Harvey and Groves have not exactly lit the world on fire so far, so it may be a lot of worrying for nothing. However, since Joseph Addai seems to have regained his burst and acceleration and Donald Brown always had those qualities, the best idea for the Indianapolis ground game will be to run right at the ends, sending the stretch and slant plays the team has made famous wider than usual and avoiding Henderson and Knighton altogether.
In the passing game, Johnson should be able to handle his man and Ryan Diem should have no issues on the right side, but whoever struggles will most likely get help from Gijon Robinson, as opposed to chip blocks from Addai or Brown.
What this group lacks in name recognition, they make up for in hustle and athletic ability. Clint Ingram, Justin Durant, and Daryl Smith have all had their star power diminished by the fact that they play in a smaller market, have not been in the league/together for very long, and were always overshadowed by Peterson, who was a tackling machine and the unquestioned big name in the linebacking corps.
Now that they're all a year older and are no longer operating in Peterson's shadow, this is the year they should be able to make some noise — with Durant having the most potential to do so, since he is playing Peterson's old position of middle linebacker and also made 12 starts there in 2008, turning some heads in the process.
The Jaguars ran more Cover 2 than anything last season and were probably a little too vanilla — much like the Colts — in their schemes and execution. Now that Ingram, Durant, and Smith have another year in the system, the Jacksonville coaches will be able to let them do more things, take more chances, blitz more frequently, and handle more responsibility.
The issue for the Jaguars, though, is that they won't be able to keep all three men on the field very often against Indianapolis, since none of them can cover Dallas Clark one-on-one and running vanilla Cover 2 will not give them the correct personnel to cover three wide receivers — or even Clark and Robinson, should the Colts deploy a lot of two tight end sets.
Jacksonville will need to have at least five defensive backs on the field for most of the game, but the good news, for them, is that they're still stout enough along the defensive line and big and athletic enough at linebacker to keep pace with the Indianapolis running attack; sideline to sideline and straight up the gut.
Jacksonville holds a fairly sizable advantage over the Colts when it comes to their front seven versus the Indianapolis front five, so it will be up to Manning and the passing attack to exploit the mismatches in the secondary.
Even if Clark ends up drawing safety Sean Considine or rookie third cornerback Derek Cox, he will still have a considerable size advantage that should help him wall off the ball and prevent the defensive back from making a play.
The only player that would be capable of shutting Clark down is free safety Reggie Nelson. Nelson has the size and coverage ability to stay with Clark one-on-one.
Rashean Mathis will most likely follow Reggie Wayne wherever he goes, which means that Indianapolis should move him between split end and the slot using Pierre Garcon as the third receiver, since Austin Collie is not as comfortable on the outside. Mathis is less comfortable operating in traffic, so Manning should be able to target Wayne when he is working out of the slot. Mathis is no longer a shutdown cornerback, either, which means that Wayne could also break free when he's split out wide.
Most importantly, all the Jacksonville cornerbacks — Mathis, Cox, and Brian Witherspoon — are very aggressive and can be taken advantage of with pump fakes and double moves. If Nelson does need to creep up towards the line of scrimmage, that will leave Considine to cover the entire deep area of the field, which is certainly not his strong suit.
Regardless, Clark and Wayne should both be productive and Anthony Gonzalez has the opportunity to have a big game working against the second- or third-best cornerback for the Jaguars and only an overmatched strong safety over the top.
Wayne, Clark, Addai, Brown, and possibly even Robinson will see the red zone targets and move the chains, but Gonzalez has real potential to record multiple big plays in this game.
Given the lack of production the Colts showed last season in the running game, the advantage the Jacksonville run defense holds, and the tremendous edge that Indianapolis possesses in the passing game, it would not be surprising at all to see the Colts come out swinging in an attempt to put the Jaguars in an early hole and force them to play to their weaknesses.
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