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