Eyes in the Backfield: Jaguars

12 Things to Watch For in Sunday's Colts-Jaguars Game

The Colts say goodbye to an old friend.

Last week, the Colts rose up on the road and landed their first impressive win since before Halloween. This week, they seek to close out the regular season with the final divisional contest of the year against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Here's what to watch for…

1. Watch for the regression beaters. Back in the Peyton Manning days, the Colts were the kings of beating regression. Normally when a team out-performs their expected wins based on points allowed and scored, they won't win as many games the following season. Manning trounced expectations every year, and now Andrew Luck is following in his footsteps. The Colts were candidates to go backwards in the win column this year, but thanks in part to Houston's collapse, they have the chance to match last year's total of 11 wins. Despite a 'stagnant' record, the 2013 Colts are better than the 2012 Colts in every meaningful way. They had the profile of a 7-win team least year, and this year their profile will match a 9-win team. Not all 11-win seasons are created equal, and this year's team has taken a step forward even if they only tie last year's mark.

2. Watch the scoreboard. There won't be a Who to Root For this week, because it's pretty simple. Root for the Bills and Ravens. If the Colts win and the Bengals and Pats lose, Indy vaults to the two seed in the AFC. If that happens, the Super Bowl becomes a very real possibility. Yes, I did just type that. Among the possible sixth seeds, Baltimore is as attractive as any. The Colts have already lost to the Chargers and Dolphins, and the Steelers can't make it without Baltimore losing, so ride the Ravens to the six seed and hope for the best. For the record, the Bengals/Ravens game is on at the same time as the Indy game, but the Pats play in the second slot, so there will be something to watch for all afternoon.

3. Watch for the right path. Jacksonville is closer to contention than any of the other teams in the AFC South. Yes, they need a viable quarterback, but they finally have the right GM/Coach combination in place, and they've shown real fight and improvement. The biggest takeaway from the Jaguars is that it's almost never "too early" to pull the plug on a bad player. I believe there was enough evidence after Blaine Gabbert's first season that he wasn't ever going to be a quality quarterback. Instead of acting on that evidence they wasted two more seasons on him, though in fairness this year was more because they hated their options. They passed up some good QBs in the 2012 draft, however, and had they moved on one of them, they could be a playoff team right now. Young players don't deserve more time to develop. This isn't baseball. Within certain parameters, if you can't play, you can't play. There has to be a 'spark' of ability. Gabbert never showed it.

4. Watch for the DPOY. Getting Robert Mathis the Defensive Player of the Year award is nearly as big a deal as winning the game. Mathis probably needs to get to 20 sacks to win it. Chad Henne has a sack rate over seven percent, so 2.5 more sacks isn't impossible. That award would help separate Mathis from other pure pass rushers in the race to Canton. He likely needs to finish his career with 130 sacks. If he adds a DPOY award, he'll go to the hall. It's a very unsettled year for that award, as the best defender, J.J. Watt, is having a down statistical year (though he's dominant) on a bad team. Mathis can win it, but likely needs to lead the league in sacks to do it. If he gets one early and/or the Colts have a big lead, watch out.

5. Watch for final numbers. Andrew Luck needs a good day passing to hit some key bench marks for the season. He's currently at 59.5% completions, and it would be nice for him to hit the 60 mark. He probably won't hit 4,000 yards as he's still 460 shy, but he can pass last year's passing touchdown total with two more scores in the year. He needs just six yards to pass Cam Newton for the most passing yards in the first two years of a career, so that's a lock. His passer rating through two years stands at 80.9. Peyton's through two years is at 80.6. While it doesn't mean what you think it means, it would be a nice accomplishment for him to beat that mark.

6. Watch the meme. Tight end A was a revelation with 45 catches for 521 yards and three touchdowns. Tight end B is a major disappointment who draws the ire of fans with 583 yards on 51 catches with four touchdowns. Tight end A is 2012 Dwayne Allen. And by now you know who the other one is. Coby Fleener continues to disappoint fans, but I'm not fully sure why. On tape, I see a player who isn't being utilized to his fullest potential, but his receiving numbers are fine. Yes, he has a lot to learn, but it took Dallas Clark five years in the league to reach those heights. It wasn't until 2007 that he hit 50 catches or 500 yards receiving. Let's be reasonable. Fleener is coming along just fine.

7. Watch for the boom. By now, everyone has gotten used to Donald Brown's boom rushes. However, if you take out his 14 rushes over 10 yards in 2013, he's still left with 2.9 yards a carry. In other words, you still have Trent Richardson with all his boom rushes left in. If you remove TRich's eight booms, you get 2.2 YPC as a Colt. So yes, DB has the boom factor, but even without it, he's still a better runner than Richardson.

8. Watch for the push. T.Y. Hilton has been quiet in recent weeks, but at 928 yards receiving, you have to expect the Colts to try and get him the 72 yards he needs for 1,000. If he gets them, he'll pass Bill Brooks for the most receiving yards in the first two years of a career by a Colt. He'd need 16 catches and two scores to get to Marvin Harrison's receptions and touchdowns marks, but the yardage mark is there with another 64. The bad news is that Hilton has reached 70 yards only once in the last six games.

9. Watch for contractual obligations. I have to write something about the Jaguars because that's the point of a game preview. It's not that I'm trying to diss them, nor should anyone take them lightly. They could well win this game. It's just that there's not much to say. They don't have a 800 yard rusher or receiver. Henne has thrown for less than 3,000 yards. Their top three pass rushers have fewer sacks combined than Robert Mathis does by himself. They have the worst offense in football and the fifth-worst defense. While they've played better of late, they are still the worst team in the league by DVOA. There's only so much to say.

10. Watch for me to think of something! We can say a word of farewell to Maurice Jones-Drew. He's playing in what is likely his final game with the Jags. He's endured the worst season of his career and isn't the player he used to be. No Jaguar has run for more yards against the Colts than Jones-Drew. He piled up 1,412 yards, 10 scores and a 5.2 yards per carry average. That's the most yards of any player against Indy since 1999. He also broke roughly two bazillion tackles. Wherever he goes next year, we wish him well and to never see him again.

11. Watch for the false trends. The Colts defense has allowed just 10 points in two games! The Colts defense has allowed fewer than 14 points in three of four games! The Colts defense has allowed 24 points or more in six of nine games and seven of the last 10. There's no real trend here. Indy has a high variance D. You never know which unit will show. They've held four opponents under 10 points this year. They've allowed four over 30. They play hot and cold largely depending on the opposing quarterback. Even if they stomp the Jags' offense Sunday, don't take it as a sign they are ready to play championship defense. It probably says a lot more about Henne and the Jags than it does about the Colts.

12. Watch for 6-0. The AFC South may be the worst division in football, but you still have to win the games. Jacksonville is better than people think, but it would be just too big a let down for the Colts not win the finale. Colts 23 Jaguars 17


Eyes in the Backfield: Jaguars

12 Things to Watch in Sunday's Colts-Jaguars Game

When Nick Messina took this picture, he didn't realize David Caldwell was wearing that gear.

Last week, the Colts stunned the world. Or at least me. This week, they try to avoid going from pulling the upset of the week to being the upset of the week as they travel to Jacksonville to take on the Jaguars. Here's what to watch for…

1. Watch for the new identity. The Colts' transition from mad bombers to full-fledged battering rams is complete. For everyone that doubted Indy's commitment to the running game, the proof was all over the field against San Francisco. For better or worse, the new Colts are a running football team. They've passed 93 times and run 91. Granted that's skewed by Luck's quarterback sneaks and a handful of kneel downs, but the quest for a 50-50 run/pass ratio is here. The early returns are strong. Indy has the fourth-best offense in football (2nd running, 10th passing), though again, Luck's scrambles help the run game, while being a function of the passing game. The metamorphosis will be in full-force this week, as the Colts plan on playing with the lead. The test will be if the Colts score enough to put the Jags away, or if a reliance on the run keeps the game closer than necessary.

2. Watch for the fireman. David Caldwell's pedigree as a franchise builder is as strong as it could be for a guy who has never been the top man in a franchise. The former Bill Polian acolyte knows that success starts with the quarterback after watching Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan transform franchises. So why did Caldwell stick with Blaine Gabbert this year? He didn't have a choice. Former GM Gene Smith lit the match on the Jags' dumpster fire after Jack Del Rio soaked the garbage in gasoline. Caldwell is just trying to stomp out the flames. The unfortunate result is the stench of burnt trash that still linkers. What does smoldering refuse smell like? It smells like a -64 point differential after just three games.

3. Watch the about face. The amount of coverage the Colts got for their win over San Francisco was amazing. ESPN did a story on them. Power rankings shot them up the board. Fans' hearts are aflutter. The truth is two games outside of the 49ers win impacted the momentum. First, when the Dolphins dumped the Falcons, suddenly Indy's narrow and disappointing loss didn't seem so bad. Turns out the Dolphins might be good. Second, Houston continued to look lost. At some point, it doesn't matter if you buy everything the Colts are selling, someone has to win the AFC South. If the Texans aren't true contenders, then the Colts are. Truthfully, we'll know soon enough where Indy stands. After Sunday's game, three of the next four games are against Seattle, Denver and Houston. The Colts have made the case they are contenders not pretenders. Over the next month, they'll get the chance to prove it.

4. Watch the other side of the field. Without making too big a fuss, there are subtle curiosities about the play of Andrew Luck. Several people who watch him have noticed he's not scanning the whole field like he used to. One of the side effects of Pep Hamilton's offense is short, quick throws. Luck's not asked to make all the same progressions he used to. His play has been solid, and he's clearly grown, but there are ways in which he hasn't progressed as hoped. His sack percentage is up early. His completion percentage is way up, but his YPA (which is vastly more important) is right on par with 2012. It's not fair to say he's "managing" the game, but it's hard not to worry that the Colts' coaches are trying to turn him into a high-end Joe Flacco. Or perhaps more accurately: Tom Brady circa 2003.

5. Watch the first real test. Trent Richardson got his feet wet in the Indy offense last week, but with Ahmad Bradshaw battling a neck stinger, look for Richardson to get the bulk of the carries against the Jaguars. Personally, I believe it's fair to judge Richardson immediately as a back. He's healthy and in shape. He's in a run-centric offense. He ought to be able to produce at a four-yards-a-carry clip. If he struggles, fans will argue all the way through training camp 2014 that he needs more time. That's nonsense. The Jaguars have the 26th ranked run defense. If he's really a potentially elite back, we should see immediate evidence. No one is judging the trade after two weeks, but it is fair to start asking to see flashes of talent from a runner who was the third pick in the draft last year.

6. Watch for one touchdown. In their last 10 home games, the Jags have scored 11 touchdowns. As a point of  comparison, the Denver Broncos have scored 11 touchdowns in their last two home games. If not for a 24-point outburst against the 2012 Titans who owned the league's worst scoring defense, the numbers for the Jaguars would be even worse. It will be tempting to over-hype Indy's defense after this week, but even a shutout would just be business as usual for visiting teams in Jacksonville.

7. Watch for the spy. Though it has been said that Blaine Gabbert is a real American, sources with the NSA now reveal that in fact he is a British double-agent. It seems that the Brits have become wary of an influx of skinny-jean wearing Yanks donning soccer kits. With their national sport in jeopardy of being co-opted by Americans too cool to like all the awesome sports in this country, they sent Gabbert to the U.S.A to help steal one of our nation's NFL franchises. The limey is systematically undermining the Jaguars' fan base in an effort to convince owner Shad Khan to move the team to London. His secret plan to coopt the NFL was exposed after his ill-fated request to have a statue of Liam Gallagher built outside of EverBank Field. It all makes sense if you think about it. No one could play that poorly on purpose. If it's not an elaborate ruse to thieve a franchise, then what could possibly explain the fact that he's still a starting quarterback despite a career ANY/A of under four?

8. Watch for the pressure. Gabbert is one of the most sackable players in NFL history, and despite a lackluster Indy pass rush, there's good reason to believe that he'll go down in a heap several times this weekend. Indy's adjusted sack rate is better than their actual pressure in part because Robert Mathis has been on fire to start the year. His already at 4.5 sacks, and while no one expects that pace to continue, he has an outside shot at becoming the all-time franchise sack leader by season's end. He's needs 11.5 sacks the rest of the way to get there. That would mean a career-high 16-sack season, topping his previous best of 11.5, but with the slate of quarterbacks he faces this year, the goal is more attainable than many realize.

9. Watch for quiet improvement. Coby Fleener is up to 12.7 yards a catch. He has a 6.1 percent DVOA and a 64 percent catch rate, up from -3.6 percent and 54 percent in 2012. He's on pace for around 40 catches, 500 yards, and five scores. Those aren't All Pro totals, but they pair almost perfectly Dallas Clark in year three of his career. In fact, Clark didn't surpass those totals until his fifth year in the league (2007). If you told Colts fans that Coby Fleener was going to be the next Dallas Clark, they'd be thrilled. Well, that's exactly what he's becoming. Just remember how long it took Clark to break out.

10. Watch the long kick. Scobee.

Oh how I hate the name.

Thou are not friend, but foe to me.

Thou hast made me cry after far too many a game.

Thoust name smacks of a crime-fighting dog,

But your demon-leg is no mystery.

It was forged in hell's own fog,

Sent to create blue misery.


Thoust evil boots land think upon my neck

As Jim Caldwell gazes on in stoic anguish.

As another effing ridiculous 60-yard figgie makes me sick

And causes me your death to wish. 

Or something.

11. Watch the deep ball. Believe it or not, the Colts can't do to Jacksonville what they did to San Francisco. At least not in the same way. Indy played single-high safety much of the game, daring the 49ers to pass, knowing they didn't have anyone who could beat them deep. The Jags do have a long-ball threat. Cecil Shorts is a fascinating weapon. He doesn't have the best arms to throw to him, obviously, but he can hit the home run ball. Indy will have to contain the Jags' run game in more conventional ways. If they dare Jacksonville to go long on them, they will. And Shorts is good enough to get open.

12. Watch for the lock. I'm still not sure what the Colts are, but I know what Jacksonville is. They are one of the worst teams in recent memory, and one of the worst home teams I've ever seen. There's no reason to over think this. Colts 27 Jacksonville 9

Eyes in the Backfield-Jaguars

12 Things to Watch for in Sunday’s Colts-Jaguars Game

Jaguars are fierce and noble creatures. (See what I’ve been reduced to?)

Last week, the Colts squeezed out a tough win over the Vikings. This week, the Jacksonville Jaguars come to town, and the Colts have a chance to go 2-1 into the bye week.  As the teams take the field in Lucas Oil Stadium, here’s what to watch for:

1. Watch the boot. In breaking down the play of Andrew Luck, the most noticible thing is how often he winds up throwing from outside the pocket. Even in the two minute drive, he’s constantly looking to buy time by bootlegging out to the edge. Unlike most rookie quarterbacks who behave this way, Luck does so with the intent to throw. Count up how many times he throws on the run and/or breaks contain with the intent to throw. That is what makes him very dangerous even at this early stage of his career.

2.Watch the corners. Last week, the corners had a pretty good game against a mediocre quarterback equipped with a mediocre receiving group. This week, they face a surprisingly similar opponent, with Blaine Gabbert throwing to Laurent Robinson, Mike Thomas, and rookie Justin Blackmon (who has yet to show up). If they can keep Blackmon from having a breakout game, they should be able to contain the Jaguars passing game, setting up their second straight positive game.

3. Watch for the Edge. Edgerrin James will be inducted into the Ring of Honor. With all the times I’ve written about James through the years, getting to actually interview him this week was honestly a thrill. I kept my cool on the conference call, but I’ll admit to being giddy the rest of the day. Some people are exactly as you’d expect them to be. In the best possible sense, that was Edge. He’s one of the great Colts ever and richly deserves the honor.

4. Watch for pressure from the edge. Robert Mathis got another sack last week, as did Jerry Hughes. Combined so far this season, they have four sacks and twelve total QB pressures. Jaguars’ left tackle Eugene Monroe has been playing fantastic so far this season, allowing just two QB pressures over the last two weeks. The Colts will likely be mixing the OLBs around, in order to get more favorable matchups. Even with a mediocre receiving group, the Jaguars will move the ball with ease if the Colts don’t get pressure. 

5. Watch for Trai Essex. While Samson Satele and Winston Justice should play this weekend the team should take comfort knowing they have more options than they’ve had thus far. Both Jeff Linkenback and Seth Olsen have been horrible so far. Trai Essex should see significant playing time and may solidify his role this week.

6. Watch the sellout. I used to write all kind of mean things about the Jaguars, because honestly, it was funny. Now that I write professionally about the AFC South, I don’t do that anymore. I feel like I owe it to my readers to be fair and not mock their team. In other words, I’m trading entertaining you for entertaining them. Why would I do that to you? Because now I get paid. Yes, that makes me a complete and total sellout, and I’m aware of how much I suck. Oh also, this game is sold-out marking about the 3,000,000th sellout in a row for the Colts. So you know, double entendre! Or maybe this is just a pun. Honestly, I’m not sure which.

7. Watch for defensive dominance. If the Colts have any chance to look dominant defensive at any point this season it’s this week. Last week the Jaguars managed a meager 117 yards of total offense. Their ineptitude set a record-low for the franchise. While it’s possible they bounce back this week behind Maurice Jones-Drew it’s also possible that the Colts carry a little swagger with them and put up a big day defensively–this is the team to do it against.

8. Watch for the Adam Vinatieri. Sitting in the south endzone of Everbank Field in Jacksonville is John Rezsonya, better known to Jaguars fans as “Arrowman.” He taunts opposing kickers with a giant arrow pointing left or right. It’s distracting but thankfully this week’s game is at Lucas Oil Stadium so Arrowman won’t get a chance to menace one of the most clutch kickers in NFL history. Don’t be surprised if the Colts are forced to call on Vinatieri again to win the game late.

9. Watch for the fire. In talking to Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country on Twitter this week, he said something illuminating. In discussing what it means if the Jaguars start out 0-3 and lose to the Colts, I was saying it would signal that their four-year rebuild was way behind the Indy one-year rebuild. Alfie said, “If they lose, everything burns.”.  He’s not wrong. There’s no way a GM should get four years to rebuild and still have his team open 0-3 in a schedule that includes the Colts and Vikings. Where have we seen this before?

10. Watch for plug. Seth Olsen was like a pool with a leak against Minnesota, allowing constant pressure up the middle of the field. Now that Joe Reitz is likely back, we may finally get to see the holes plugged at least in the passing game. Hopefully they open up in the running game. So more than like a patch for the line, Reitz may be like one of those pool plugs that you can open and close, rather than just pull straight out and let it drain. That, my friends, is how you write a metaphor. <drops mic, walks out>

UPDATE: Reitz is now like out, making Olsen like one of those pool patches you apply, but immediately rips off, making you wonder why you saved it in your junk drawer for five years only to have it fail when you needed it.

11. Watch the jerseys. The top two selling jerseys on the Dick’s Sporting Goods Jersey report in football right now are Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. I’m still trying to wrap my head around this. I saw plenty of both at the Luke last week, but overall, I think there’s more room for Luck’s to grow. After all, I don’t even own one yet. A few wins over Jacksonville, however, and my collection may need to grow. It’s especially interesting having kids in this era. I’m coming to grips with the idea of letting them have Luck as “their guy”. He’ll mean more to them than he’ll ever mean to me, I’m sure. I’m going to have to go shopping for Christmas. The 87 and 18 ones my children wear now will always be classic, but they will outgrow them. Next up is 12.

12. Watch for a rerun. The Jaguars barely lost to the Vikings on the road, and the Colts barely beat them at home. These two teams are essentially even. The Colts are playing at home, and that will be enough to topple the Jaguars 21-19.

Eyes in the Backfield-Jaguars

7 Things to Watch for In Sunday’s Colts Jaguars Game

No joke today. Thank someone who served.

Last week, the Colts didn’t bother to show up, as they got shellacked by the Falcons. Now the two-win Jaguars come to town, representing the Colts’ last best hope for a win in 2011. Assuming you bother, here’s what to watch for:

1. Watch the one thing to improve. The 2011 Colts are bad at a lot of things, but the one part of the team that isn’t just a little better, but a lot better is the offensive line. Check these numbers out:

Adj Line Yards Power Success Stuffed Sack % YPC
2009 3.93 (25th) 66% (12th) 22% (27th) 3.1% (1) 3.5
2010 3.82 (22nd) 56% (22nd) 20% (20th) 2.8% (1) 3.8
2011 4.4 (5th) 64% (11th) 16% (6th) 6.2% (14) 4.5

The Colts tried to fix the O line in the offseason, and they plainly did. The sack percentage is actually the number that impresses me the most. Sacks are primarily tied to the quarterback, not the line. Given how bad the Indy QBs have been, being middle of the pack in pass protection is amazing, frankly. All the of the run numbers are markedly better over last year, and the ‘stuffed’ ranking (how many times a RB is tackled for 0 or negative yards) is vastly improved.

Unfortunately, all this proves is exactly what I’ve been saying for a year now…offensive line doesn’t matter nearly as much as the QB and the pass defense. But hey, at least something is working right!

2. Watch an old friend. Clint Sessions (officially his name now) is back. He’s been gloating all about how the Colts haven’t won a game. I’m glad Clint made his money, because he’s one tough dude, but it’s like he doesn’t realize the Jags only have two wins. The Jags are an interesting case. They managed to turn their defense around radically after spending a lot of money on free agents, but it hasn’t helped them win many games. They paid $5 million for Session. He’s started 4 games, has 1 sack and 16 tackles. They’ve gotten some solid play out of Posluzny and Landry, but they spent big bucks to only win two games. The Jags spending spree isn’t going to turn into a lot of wins, and judging by Session’s play this year, I doubt the Colts regret letting him walk.

3. Watch the worst QBs in football. The worst offense in the NFL by DVOA? It’s not the Colts! It’s the Jaguars. You can make a pretty convincing case that Blaine Gabbert and Curtis Painter are the worst starting quarterbacks in football. If you go by DVOA (and you know I do!), Painter ranks 35th in the league in DVOA, while Gabbert ranks 38th, dead last. This is actually a fascinating study for Colts fans. If you gave the Colts the #6 D in the league and paired it with Curtis Painter…they’d be about where the Jags are: 2 wins. That’s how much difference the QB makes. I’d run down the QB numbers for you all, but this is a family site, and the results are gruesome.

4. Watch the end of a hilariously bad era. Del Rio ball is mercifully close to the end. I don’t know what I’ll do when he’s gone. Without two games a year against a coach who once chopped the leg off his punter, what will I joke about? I’ll miss lots of things about Jackie D, but mostly I’ll miss the way he would needlessly torch his veterans. No wait, I’ll miss his spot challenges. No, no, I’ll miss him losing to the Colts all the time. Yeah. That’s the thing I’ll miss the most.

5. Watch the dead man walking. I don’t believe Jim Caldwell has to win this game to keep his job, but honestly, if the Colts get run out of the building on Sunday, I don’t know how he survives the bye week. I get all the reasons people think the Colts might keep him, but please. We all know he’s not coming back. Firing him now opens the door for the Colts to freely approach all the major candidates without anyone feeling skeezy about it. If the team wins or even plays well, Caldwell might make it through week 16, but they’ve shown no life in weeks, and that’s on the coach. He’s got to go, and sooner is better than later.

6. Watch for the book party. Did you really think I was going to talk about this crap-fest for 7 points? Come down to the Colts Grille on Monday night. We are having a release party for Invincible, Indiana, my new book! You can get 10% off your meal if you buy a copy. Check out the party on Facebook!  It’s going to be fun.

7. Watch our last, best hope slip away. I don’t think the Colts will win this week. I don’t think it’ll be close. My biggest mistake may have been not holding my ground on Painter. He’s basically been horrible except for one half against KC. Jags 17 Colts 9.

Eyes in the Backfield-Jaguars

18 Things to Watch for During Sunday’s Colts/Jaguars Game

I’m so tired of these clowns.

Last week, the Colts won a tough road game and their reward this week is another trip to Jacksonville.  It’s been a few years since Luke and I traveled down to the ‘Hole for a Monday Night game, and since then the Colts have made a habit out of beating the Jags in prime time.  Will they fare so well in the late afternoon?  This week be watching for:

1. Watch the master.  Peyton Manning is almost always great, and this year he’s playing the best ball of his life.  When Peyton goes to Jacksonville, however, you really have to watch out.  Ever since the 2006 beat down, Manning has taken it upon himself to dominate the Jags in Jacksonville.  Since 2007, Manning has 8 TDs, 2 picks and a rating of 120.5 in Jacksonville.  Not coincidentally, Indy has won all three games.

2.  Watch for the formulaFrom the beginning of 18to88, we’ve cited the magic formula that always occurs during Jaguars games.  Josh Scobee will miss a kick (he’s missed at least one in 6 of his last 9 games against Indy) and Jack Del Rio will do something stupid.  I don’t know what it will be.  Maybe he’ll challenge a spot or waste a time out.  He’s gotten more aggressive at going for it (a good thing), so that’s probably off the table.  I don’t know what he’ll do, but it’ll be dumb, and I’ll be laughing.

3.  Watch the heat. For years, Jags fans actually WHINED about having to play the Colts at night.  Most teams love to get a rival in town for a big night game so the crowd will be stoked.  The Jags labored to sell out all three games (then complained that the national media was focusing on how hard it was to sell out).  The Jags fans wanted to play Indy at 1 PM in an early season game, so they could take advantage of the heat.  Well, it turns out that fans don’t like going to games in the heat, so the NFL has given the Jags more 4 PM kickoffs to help with ticket sales.  The flip side of that is that it should be a little cooler by the end of the game. The forecast for Sunday is a high of 80 with scattered showers, so it’s unlikely the Colts will melt in the Florida sun.

4.  Watch the heat.  No, I don’t have a stutter.  David Garrard is under pressure from all quarters for his terrible play in recent weeks.  He followed up the worst game of his career two weeks ago, with an even worse game last week.  The only thing saving Garrard is that backup QB Luke McCown got hurt.  Garrard is the most unpopular guy in town right now, and another bad game could sink him as Jags just signed Trent Edwards off the waiver wire this week.

5.  Watch the process of elimination.  The Colts are leaking oil on the injury front.  At this point it’s becoming a cruel game of Peyton, Dallas, and Reggie take on the world.  With Don Brown and Austin Collie both ailing, and Garcon and Gonzo out at least another week, at some point you have to start looking around for Craphonso Thorpe and Aaron Moorehead.  The offensive line may well be comprised of random fat guys that Polian found at the local Denny’s.  As for the defense, we are a nicked up Bethea or Bullitt away from just playing with ten guys and saving everyone the trouble of memorizing a new face.  The Colts have to have an injury free game or the next man up might be Casey Irsay Foyt.

6.  Watch for a stern talking to. Ever since the linebackers got out of whack in week one, Gary Brackett has been on fire.  Even Phil Wheeler showed up all over the game tape making plays in Denver.  Apparently, they got the message.  Now it’s time for the secondary.  Watch for a lot of sure tackles and sound play this week as I’m sure they all got read the riot act for their over-aggressive play in the Denver game.

7. Watch the bowling ball.  Maurice Jones-Drew is well known to Colts fans.  Indy famously wanted to take him in the second round of the 2006 draft, but the Jags snaked him just a couple of picks before. MoJo has been the Jags’ lone super-star for several years, but is starting to show signs of wear.  His YPC has fallen under four, and he needs a good game against Indy to get back on track.  He’s gone over 100 yards from scrimmage in 6 of 8 games against Indy and has never had less than four yards a carry against them.  The Jags always try to pound Indy with the run, so containing MJD is step one to winning.

8.  Watch the back end.  The Jags pass rush has gotten better, but their secondary is still a mess.  The Jags are allowing opposing passers a passer rating of 108.7 through three games.  That’s not a fluke either.  They were 30th in 2009 allowing passers to post a 96.0 rating.  To put that in context:  they turn every QB they face this year into 2005 Peyton Manning.  They turn every QB they faced last year into 2008 Peyton Manning.  When they actually face Peyton Manning, it creates a rift in the space time continuum where by every player on the field becomes Peyton Manning simultaneously and a form of harmonic convergence causes the scoreboard to literally explode.

9.  Watch the counter productive marketing strategy. The Jags, through herculean efforts, have managed to sell out their third straight home game.  This is a serious accomplishment, but it might backfire.  If the team plays poorly at home, the same fans who were arm twisted into buying tickets this year might well bail on the franchise forever.  When you have a bad team, you shouldn’t beg people to come watch.  Let them stay home so they don’t resent you.  Ironically, selling out games could be the worst thing to ever happen to the Jags.  Wait.  Who am I kidding?  It won’t be worse than hiring Jack Del Rio.  Sorry I exaggerated.

10. Watch the left.  With Charlie Johnson back at practice and Jamie Richard limited, it’ll be fascinating to see who gets the call for the left tackle and guard spots.  The Colts could go with CJ at tackle and DeVan at guard.  They could try Linkenbach back at tackle and move CJ inside.  They could just hire a guy to yell, “BOO!” really loud at the Jacksonville defense.  Whatever.  The Colts have struggled mightily to run the ball to the left side, so I’m not sure that the alignment they use can possibly be any worse than what they’ve already tried.

11. Watch the player of the month. Robert Mathis has 6.5 career sacks against the Jags already.  He’s been dominant for Indy early in the season.  Moreover, Garrard has taken 9 sacks in just 83 dropbacks, which means he’s going down better than one out of every 10 times he tries to throw.  Given the fact that 98 and 93 saw limited action in the last game, and the Jags moved the ball with ease against Indy, expect Mathis and Freeney to go for broke.

12. Watch fourth down.  As I mentioned, Del Rio went from being one of the most conservative coaches in the game to one of the more aggressive ones on short yardage.  Meanwhile, Jim Caldwell has never seen a punt in opposition territory he didn’t like.  If the Jags are going to win this game, they’ll will have to successfully convert at least two or three key fourth downs, and hope Caldwell bails them out with a few pointless punts.

13. Listen for soft weeping.  Vic Ketchman is fond of saying that there is no cheering in the press box. Unfortunately, there is sometimes crying. As the game gets out of hand late, listen for the heartbreaking sobs of a man who suddenly has no desire to open his email inbox come Monday morning.  Honestly, reading Ask Vic after the Jags lose is one of my guilty pleasures in life.  That and Glee.  Actually, just that.  Glee just makes me feel guilty. There’s not really much pleasure attached to it.

14.  Watch the new weapon.  Well, a late round tight end isn’t really much of a weapon, but the Colts’ wideouts limited by injury, we could see a scenario where Brody Eldrige goes out into patterns more often.  Manning tried to find him up the seam last week, but it looked like he was a step slower than Peyton expected. Though Phil B expects Collie to play, if he can’t go we might see some catches for the big kid.

15. Watch the fourth quarter.  Manning leads the NFL in fourth quarter passer rating, and the Colts offense leads in fourth quarter DVOA.  If the game is still close late, look for Peyton to put his foot on the gas and bring home the victory.  The Jags can counter however. They lead the league in tarps.  Those could come in handy if they need to blanket some receivers late.

16. Watch for the weird mapCheck out who gets to watch Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts call this game: most of the midwest, parts of Florida, San Fransisco and then the Oregon/Washington coast.  Whoa.  That’ll make BobM’s week, but I can’t figure out why Seattle and Portland are digging this game.  As a side point, do you think Dan Fouts ever looks at Peyton Manning and realizes how much better 18 is than he ever was? I mean, the guy is in the Hall of Fame, but Peyton just cruised by every number he ever posted.  Incredible.

17. Watch the old married couple. On Sunday, Saturday and Manning will become the longest tenured QB/Center combo in history.  They’ll surpass Kelly and Hull from Buffalo.  How amazing is it that we’ve gotten to watch these two?  Saturday has had a bit of a rough start to his year. I’m blaming the knee.  Let’s hope for a clean game from him as they break the record.

18.  Watch the beat down.  While Colts/Jags games in Indy are always close, there has been the occasional beat down in Jacksonville.  Expect one on Sunday.  The Colts are looking to get on a serious roll that could carry them into their bye week and a rematch with the Texans.  The Jags should be next step in a string of patsies. Indy 35 Jacksonville 10.

Eyes in the Backfield – Jaguars (full)

18 Things to Watch For Versus the Jaguars
Jack Del Rio won’t sleep well the night before the Colts game
Another year is under way, and we’ll be here every week with Eyes in the Backfield.  It’s the only weekly look at the Colts’ game that gives you 18 points of emphasis.  This year, we kick off with the hated Jaguars.  Here’s what you need to be watching for this week:
1.  Watch the floundering picks on the line-Both the Jags and the Colts made trades to get key players on the line (O and D) in recent drafts.  The Colts took Tony Ugoh and the Jags took Derrik Harvey.  Both players are young and have struggled some.  Ugoh has been replaced, but ultimately both teams will need production from the their spots, if not from the players themselves.
2.  Watch what could have been-In 2006, the Colts wanted to draft Maurice Jones Drew in the second round.  Instead, the Jags scooped him up just ahead of Indianapolis.  Addai and Jones-Drew are often compared to one another because of their draft class and similar skill sets.  Both have seen their YPC decline for three consecutive years.  The difference is that Addai is one cog in the Colts’ wheel, while MJD is the Jags offense.

3.  Watch the TEs-With all the focus on the third wide receiver for the Colts, many have over looked the potential impact of Gijon Robinson and Jacob Tamme on the offense.  Both should wind up with more catches than Collie or Garcon.  The Colts will have to help Charlie Johnson with extra TE help, so you might see screens and late releases if no one is open downfield.
4.  Watch for the 3-4-The Jags have been experimenting with a 3-4 defense in passing situations.  They lack the personnel to commit fully to the scheme, but it seems to be an attempt to turn Quentin Groves into a useful player.  Don’t be surprised to see odd looks from the Jags if the Colts wind up in third and long situations.
5.  Watch for empty tanks-Jones-Drew is now the sole feature back in Jacksonville with the departure of Fred Taylor.  Last year against the Colts, he savaged the run dense early in the game in Jacksonville (12 for 66 yards).  In the second half, he was exhausted, finishing with just 25 yards on 8 carries.  Jones-Drew may not be able to be a feature every down back in the league, and if the Jags run him too much, too early, he’ll wear down.  The Colts, on the other hand, will counter with Don Brown whenever Addai needs rest.  Look for the Indy YPC to increase as the game moves along.

6.  Watch the ageless and wonder-The Jags big offseason signing was 33 year old Torry Holt.  The Jaguars had horrible receivers last year, and their best hope for improvement offensively is for Torry Holt to regain some of his previous glory.  Even if he matches his 2008 stats, (64, 896, 3 TDs), he’ll be better than anything the Jags had last year.  If his age has caught up to him however, it’ll be another long season for Jacksonville.
7.  Watch the Jags and Colts on TV-If you live in Jacksonville (and why would you do that?) you can enjoy watching your home team play a game that will be televised.  Don’t get too used to it, however, because the odds are strong that when the Colts visit Jacksonville the game will be blacked out.  In fact, none of the Jags home games my be aired on local TV.  Ouch.

8.  Watch the cannon shot-Twice the Jags have won in Indianapolis on field goals over 50 yards at the gun by Josh Scobee.  Scobee will often blow short kicks against the Colts, but he is deadly from long range.  Pray the game doesn’t come down to him needing to hit another 50 yarder.

9.  Watch the rookie. Jerraud Powers is likely to be the first rookie to start a game at corner for the Colts since Ashley Ambrose.  With Marlin Jackson still building up stamina, the third round pick has his chance to make a splash.  He’ll likely be covering the stone handed Troy Williamson, if that’s any consolation.
10.  Watch for consequences-Starting DT Ed Johnson is serving a one game suspension from the NFL stemming from his drug arrest.  Seeing as how he was cut and lost 15 games last year, it seems punitive to pile on with an extra game.  Still Johnson knew he was on thin ice and screwed up anyway. The Colts are counting on him in a big way this year, and it’s tough to have him miss a game against a running back that has plagued Indianapolis. 
11.  Watch for the second guessers. With the demotion of Tony Ugoh, some fans have openly wondered why the Colts took Donald Brown in the first round when they clearly needed a tackle.  The next tackle available for the Colts was Eben Britton who was selected 13 picks after Brown by the Jags.  If Britton can hold his own against the pass rush, those complaints will increase.  If he is destroyed, they will cease.

12.  Watch the blitz. The big story could be a change in philosophy from the Colts.  The Colts led the league in fewest blitzes last year, rushing 4 players 84.8% of the time and rushing three 5.3% of the time.  That’s 9 out of 10 plays where the Colts did not blitz on defense.  The Colts blitzed frequently in the preseason, with often disastrous results.  All season long, we’ll statistically track the Colts’ blitzes to determine if they are effective or not.
13.  Watch for shoes. Rumor has it that Jags owner Wayne Weaver is hoping to get back into the shoe business.  He has designed a stylish but affordable women’s pump that should take the market by storm.  Sources indicate he’s asked several members of the Jags secondary to try them out for publicity.
14.  Watch for jersey pulls. Last year, Manning threw two picks against the Jags in Indianapolis.  Both were clearly blown interference calls, and one went for a touch down.  Sunday, watch corner Rashean Mathis get handsy with the Colts receivers.  If you see the jersey come away from the body, watch for the flag.  If you don’t see the flag fly, it’ll be a long day.
15.  Watch for raw hate. The Titans are the Colts’ true rival in the AFC South, but there is an abundance of mutual respect.  The Jags on the other hand despise the Colts, and Colts’ fans loathe the kitties in return.  We made a trip down to Jacksonville a few years ago and found the process hilarious.  Be sure to check out “Ask Vic” on Monday as he’s flooded with emails from giddy Colts’ fans.  There’s also a good chance that the raw hate could flow internally on the Jville sideline.  The players turned on Jack Del Rio last year, and if their season goes south, it could get ugly.
16.  Watch for sparkles. The Jags have added glitter to their helmets.  I’m leaving it at that.
17.  Watch for a leg up. With the Titans reeling after a heartbreaking loss to the Steelers and a tough slate of games yet to come, the Colts have a chance to bolt out on top in their quest to reclaim the AFC South.  An early season loss to Jacksonville last year was the difference between Indy winning the division and getting a first round bye and a date with the Ravens (who they destroyed) and having to travel on the road to San Diego.  Division games are too important to lose.
18.  Watch for the quick start. The Colts have gotten off to good leads in several recent Jags games, only to see the Jags claw back late and make the final score closer than the game felt.  Deshawn says that Indy jumps out early again on the Jags and cruises to a comfortable 30-21 win.  Demond likes the Colts 20-16, figuring the offense will struggle early, but get in gear late.