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 formula. From 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 map. Check 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.