Eyes in the Backfield – Jaguars

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A normal Thursday night in downtown Jacksonville.  Even when the Jags aren’t playing.

Last week, the boys sucked me into predicting the blowout, yet required another fourth quarter TD from Manning and company to pull one out against Detroit.  Now, almost unbelievably, the Colts have a chance to wrap up a playoff spot with an extra week left to get healthy.  As the Colts prepare for a short week tilt with the Jags, be sure to watch for:

1.  The game. . . if you can find it.  The NFL network is still not ubiquitous, and while local Colts fans can tune into Fox 59 many fans around the country will be left in the dark.  The disappearance of these games into the black hole that is the NFL network has forced writers and bloggers to coin terms such as ‘quasi-national TV’ and ‘mostly prime-time stage’.

2.  Watch for the wounded.  The word out early on was that Addai and Sanders could be ready to go for Thursday night, but now the team is hedging.  Polian called the Zombie a 51-49 prospect.  It’s a tough call for Colts fans.  On one hand, it would be nice to see the whole team play together for at least one game before the playoffs, but on the other we’ve been conditioned to cringing at a half dozen players limp off the field per half.  How the Colts choose to balance the injuries vs the need to for rhythm will be dominant theme for the next week and a half.

3.  Watch for Mike Peterson.  He’s back to starting for the Jags after a senseless demotion.  Earlier this season, Jack Del Rio took his frustration out on the veteran linebacker and in the process completely lost his team who appeared to flat quit on him for a good month.  Now that injuries have mounted, the Jags are forced to play the free-agent-to-be.  Peterson will have a lot of motivation to play well.  He needs a nice showing to make a bid for a new contract somewhere else.  He loves to play against his former team, and he’ll want to show up Mad Jack in a ‘pseudo-big game’.

4.  Watch the vultures starve.  Manning played the big man last week and let Chad Simpson and Dom Rhodes feast upon his bounty by handing the ball off on the goal line.  The three rushing TDs helped the Colts win, but also dampened Manning’s MVP campaign.  With the playoffs all but assured, watch for Peyton to show some love to his wideouts this week in close.

5.  Watch the number 5 (clever, huh?).  The Colts are still on pace to shatter the record for fewest TD passes allowed in a season (9).  Indy has only allowed four this year.  Ironically, it hasn’t been a murderer’s row to post them.  Indy has allowed TD passes to Phil Rivers (twice), Dan Orlovsky, Sage Rosenfels, and Aaron Rodgers. If Indy can keep David Garrard from thowing one Thursday, the record is all but sealed.

6.  Watch Garrard scramble.  The Jags haven’t had much running game or much of a downfield passing game.   Garrard making plays with his legs has been about 18% of the Jags run offense.  The Colts have always been vulnerable to the scrambling QB thanks to the extreme pursuit of the DEs.  With Brackett out, watch for Freddy Keiaho to play spy on Garrard.

7.  Watch for MJD in the passing game.  With Matt Jones out for using crack (you’d think that was a joke if it wasn’t true), the Pocket Hercules is the leading receiver for the Jags both in terms of yards, and catches.  When a team has a QB as one of it’s leading rushers, and a RB as its leading receiver, you know something has gone horribly wrong with their season.

8.  Watch for alternatives.  Even if things go poorly on Thursday, Indy still has a variety of ways to seal up the playoffs.  Losses by any two of the following teams get them in: Ravens, Pats, Jets or Phins.

9.  Watch the zebras.  The first Jacksonville Indy game was a freakshow of horrible officiating.  Rashean Mathis manhandled 88 for a bogus pick 6 in the first half that kept the Jags close.  Then Manning threw a horrible pick that should have come back if the official had noticed that Marvin Harrison’s jersey was yanked COMPLETELY OFF HIS SHOULDER PADS.  Finally, the Colts were beat on a fluky but technically correct pass interference call late in the game to keep the Jags alive. The call should have been illegal contact, and the officials compounded their mistake by spotting the ball 5 yards past where the ‘intereference’ occurred.  The Colts should have blown the Jags out of the building that day, and the loss still stings as it has kept the Colts from winning the AFC South again.

10.  Watch the mirror.  If there was ever a case for two teams illustrating the importance of QB play and coaching it was there two teams.  After 6 weeks, both teams sat at 3-3.  Both teams had face a horrible spate of injuries, especially on the offensive line.  The Jags were facing a ‘get healthy’ stretch against the Browns, Bengals and Lions and a home game with the Titans.  The Colts were in the same boat, but faced a ‘death march’ of @Tennessee, NE, @Pitt, @SD.  Jack Del Rio’s team failed to respond, and imploded going 1-3 and are now in last place in the division.  Tony Dungy’s team buckled it down going 3-1 and are headed to the playoffs.  In that stretch Peyton Manning threw 9 TDs and 2 picks, while Garrard threw 4 and 2.  Both teams have been raveged by injuries.  One team has a Hall of Fame coach and QB.  The other has a ‘guy’ and ‘a slightly retarded bull in a china shop’.  Advantage Colts.

11.  Watch for the MRI results.  Marvin Harrison, who apparently banged up his knee against the Lions, “actually has a hamstring issue,” according to Dungy.  So that’s not confusing at all.  Marvin is questionable for Thursday night’s game.   Update:  Marvin wasn’t on the plane and won’t be playing.  So instead watch AG fill in at the number two spot.   

12.  Watch the replacement.  Dennis Northcutt has only 31 catches and 1 score on the season.  Filling in for Matt Jones he grabbed 5 for 127 yards last week against the Packers.  The Colts passing defense will need to come back strong after a weak outing versus Detroit. 

13.  Watch a different strategy.  The Jaguars ran the ball 45 times against the Colts in the Week 3 match up.  With Fred Taylor out for the year, the Jags called only 14 designed rushing plays last week.  The trend should continue because the Jags don’t have a trusted back-up and MJD isn’t a 30 carries per game rusher.         

14.  Watch the statistical anomaly.  Placekicker Josh Scobee is 80% beyond 50 yards this season, including the 51-yarder that won the game at Indy.  From 30 to 49 yards his 58% success rate is well below league average.     

15.  Watch the investments.  The Jaguars were very high on their young Defensive Ends, Derrick Harvey and Quentin Groves.  The duo has combined for just 4 sacks coming off the bench.  The veteran starters Reggie Hayward and Paul Spicer haven’t faired much better with 7 sacks between them. 

16.  Watch the difference.  With Pro Bowler Rashean Mathis on IR, the Jacksonville corners have zero interceptions to their names.  Manning certainly won’t miss one of the grabbiest corners in the NFL. 

17.  Watch the whole game.  This might be the last good look we get at the Colts before the playoffs.  The Tennessee game is a big question mark at this point and could easily turn into a Sorgi-Fest.  Whatever impression the Colts make against the Jags will stay with us for the next 18 days. 

18. Watch for the clinch.  This Colts team is impossible to read.  My gut tells me that they go into Jacksonville and stink tomorrow.  I have a terrible feeling about this game, but all season long that has resulted in missed predictions.  As it is, I think the Colts are just dialed in enough to beat the Jags on the road without some key players playing.  Manning gets it done in the fourth quarter again, 24 – 22.  Don’t ask me how the Jags get to 22; Jack will find a way.  Demond likes the Colts by the more conventional score of 27 – 20. 

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