In many respects, the game in Jacksonville was very similar to what Colts fans have come to expect in games against the Jaguars. There will be a steady dose of Maurice Jones-Drew running the football, delayed runs, draws, and quarterback options will dominate the front presented against Indy’s speedy defense. When the Colts have the ball the Jaguars defenders will play very physical, hit hard, and fight with all they have to limit a relentless Colts offense with an unlimited number of weapons and the greatest field general in the NFL.
The tempo for the game was set very early, and it was one that did not favor a Colts victory. Fans may recall the Colts facing the New York Giants at home in Week 2, and visions of safety Antoine Bethea lighting up Ahman Bradshaw on the first defensive play of the game really made a statement after an abysmal defensive performance in Houston. In this game against Jacksonville, the Colts did not come out with fire in their bellies, the defenders over-pursued, were tied to the scheme, and did not recognize and recover well at all.
The Colts offense dominated the Jaguars defense in nearly every phase of the game. While the ground game struggled early, Joseph Addai ended the game with nearly four yards a carry, and was a big factor through the air as well. Colts fans enter each game extremely worried about the offensive line and quick to throw blame their way when things are not going the way the fans would like. The fact is, outside of a couple of big mistakes by Charlie Johnson and Ryan Diem, which led to a blown up running play and a sack, the offensive line played a pretty solid game.
The lack of running yards was not due primarily to there not being any holes for Joseph Addai and Mike Hart. The lack of running yards was due to great linebacker and safety plays for Jacksonville to get to those holes and make tackles quickly. The Jaguars defense played with great vision, reaction-time, and tackled very well throughout much of the game — particularly against the run.
Before talking about the Colts defense, it is important to note that the offense has continued a frustrating trend of missing opportunities to score points, continue drives, and take advantage of what their opponents give them. Austin Collie and Dallas Clark had inexplicable drops. Reggie Wayne made a mistake while driving late in the game when he focused more on stretching the ball for a first down than he did securing the football and keeping the drive going.
Some blame Brody Eldridge for the Peyton Manning interception but that seems completely unfair. While the interception was most certainly not Manning’s fault, there is little reason to blame Eldridge as there was nothing he could have done differently in technique or form to secure that football.
He made the catch with his hands extended into the air, and at that point was completely vulnerable to whatever the defenders around him might do. One of the defenders made a great play by striking him hard, another by getting a hand or helmet on his arms or the ball, and finally a circus ankle pin-job to complete what would have otherwise been an incompletion. It was a great defensive play, not an Eldridge or Manning failure.
In football though, these kinds of things happen. Sometimes teams have to overcome turnovers, missed opportunities, and a great defensive play or two by an opponent to win football games. Unfortunately, the defense did not make this happen.
The biggest theme for the Colts defense against the Jaguars was over-pursuit, lack of discipline, poor vision, poor tackling, and a total lack of energy throughout much of the game. It was almost possible to draw up the defensive scheme diagram in one’s mind and watch the Colts players run around like little dots following whatever Papa Coyer told them to do on that play.
The problem is, the Colts should know better than to play that style of defense against the Jaguars. Jack Del Rio and David Garrard are fully aware of the fact that “taking it right at the Colts” is not a good option. They are both aware that getting into an aerial shoot-out does not favor their chances to win the football game. They both also know that in order to be effective against the Colts defense you have to find a way to turn the speed of Indy’s defenders into a disadvantage.
The defense played right into Del Rio and Garrard’s hands. The game was filled with cutback runs, delayed runs, options, and delayed screens. The biggest positive attribute to all of these offensive plays is that they require the defense to show their hands before they come together. As a result, if a defense is just running around like chickens with their heads cut off, with their eyes down, and their legs churning with no higher purpose (like the little red and yellow bad guys in Pac Man), the plays will present themselves.
The Jacksonville offense and Maurice Jones-Drew did more to take what the Colts defense blatantly handed them, than they did completely demolishing the defense straight up. Outside of the Jaguars first offensive drive in the first quarter, the defense dominated the Jaguars offense on any play they tried to run “straight up.”
What is frustrating for Colts fans in this scenario is the following question: If armchair quarterback football fans can see this going on during the game, why can the Colts coaches not see it, make adjustments, or even game plan prior to the game better than what they did? The Colts and Jaguars games have been carbon copies for the past five or so years. It is astonishing to see Indianapolis come out and look so unprepared defensively for what Jacksonville was planning to do.
The defensive goats of the game for the Colts were Clint Session (just back from a hamstring injury), Melvin Bullitt (playing with a hurt shoulder), Kelvin Hayden and Philip Wheeler. This group of players was more often out of position, unaware of where the football was on the field, and unready to make a play than any of the other Colts defenders.
Bullitt let David Garrard run right past him, completely unaware that he had the football on the Jaguars first scoring drive. Hayden often either did not get off of blocks, had his feet in quicksand, tackled poorly, and blew an opportunity to seal a Colts win or stop the Jaguars from eventually scoring the game-winning field goal if he caught a football thrown right into his hands. Session often took himself out of plays, was completely unaware of where the football was going, and also struggled with missed tackles and weak arm tackles for much of the contest. Philip Wheeler played a very similar game to Session.
Winning football games without good defensive vision, discipline, solid tackling, and without taking advantage of the opportunities that are presented in the game is a difficult thing. Calling timeouts in some kind of passive-aggressive strategy to get the ball back with seconds to play in the fourth quarter, while the opponent opens their drive with a run and seems content with going into over-time does not help.
If the Colts wanted to play for the win in regulation, they should have gone for the two-point conversion following their final touchdown. Expecting to stop a team on 2nd-and-2 with 30 seconds to play, get the ball back, and drive for a score with almost no time on the clock is unrealistic and risky for the precise reason Josh Scobee provided.
Once again, missed opportunities, poor play-calling and game decisions, a lack of adjustments, and playing vanilla football, leads to a Colts loss. These things will have to get worked out in a hurry, and the Colts players will have to find the passion and hunger they had against the Giants, and be able to sustain it, if this season is going to end up in Dallas.