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.
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
I'll be at the Colts/Jags game - pretty good seats on the second level by the 10 yard line. I'll take some pics of any dumpster fires. Don't let me down, Colts! They're giving away two free beers.
Liked everything except #11. Not that Shorts isn't a speed guy, but even with single high, Gabbert has to have time to get the ball to him. And be accurate with the pass. Obviously the Colts won't play the exact same D against the Jags, but a variation of what they did against the Niners is exactly what would work against the Jags IMHO.
This just in: In addition to Bradshaw being out, the Jags currently have only TWO healthy WRs on the roster. Plus two newbies on practice squad. If we double Shorts, we can still stack the box against MJD. How is Shorts getting separation against press coverage? Will Erik Walden prove (or at least not crap the bed) that he's a "solid run stopper who can set the edge" or whatever crap they fed us back I the spring...?
Could be a lower scoring game than expected, with Colts getting just 17 and the Jags, making NFL history by putting up a negative score. Gabbert gets his jersey in the HOF, just not the way he had hoped....
Fantastic Scobee poem. "As Jim Caldwell gazes on in stoic anguish./As another effing ridiculous 60-yard figgie makes me sick" Just perfect. Throw Bironas in there as well. My sons have learned most of their profanity when the Jax/Tenn kickers pull last minute wins out of their 60-yard butts. Or something like that.
Damn, Bradshaw is OUT this week--making the Richardson signing look less poor in Nate's view, I hope. 100+ yards on Sunday will do that, too.
Not sure what I found more interesting sitting in a bar in Vancouver BC last week (my nephew, visiting from Japan where there isn't much NFL coverage, looked in, saw football on the TV, and said "lunch in here." Good choice.) : The Jags down by a million with 50 yards to go just before the half giving the gimpy MJD the ball on a draw (Sweet--have your best player crushed in a vain effort to gain, what, 15 yards?) or the Niners abandoning the run after Gore averaged a mere 10 YPC or thereabouts.
Ha! It picture of a dumpster fire and got funnier from there. Made my morning. Nicely done.
By the way Nate, a you writing any where else? I miss the debates your fact based reasonableness stirred up over on Bleacher Report.
I love the fact that you took the metaphor in #2 and ran with it. (Sort of like Richardson and the football, one will hope).
As for point 4, I have confidence that eventually they'll turn Luck loose. "Eventually" may mean "not until next year, when they finish patching up the O-line." But eventually. They'd better.
I love reading about my Colts and finding poetry in the article! Do you think Vontae is able to guard Shorts one on one?
@NateDunlevy big fan of point 7 and the use of Limey...Gabbert's career makes so much more sense now
After witnessing the 49ers game plan last night against the Rams, did "Captain Comeback" actually help engineer another miraculous Colts victory last week.
(I mean did Coach Harbaugh go, "Frank Gore's got 11 carries for 82 yards a few minutes into the third quarter, let's not give him the ball anymore.")
I may have to rethink my stance on him.
When I dared to make public my disdain for Jim Harbaugh on a Colts site dedicated to not only the present but to the history of the team in Indy, I've come to grips with two things:
(1) I'm exceedingly grateful that I was not immediately banned for life.
(2) I will have to accept without complaint all jokes made at the expense of my fellow Mizzou alum Blaine Gabbert. (Notice, I did not say I would defend him, because after all, he is Blaine Gabbert.)
I would, however, like to point out that how bad does another punk ass Michigan QB Chad Henne have to be that he continues to get beat out by Gabbert.
Agree about Clark/Fleener comparisons. Just needs time. One of my greatest hopes with the entire Colts team/org is hopefully the ability to grow for a few years. Was massively important for Peyton as well. We just forget because he's now super-human.
@smonroe Believe it or not, that's why it's the biggest problem. Indy's pass rush is slow and doesn't land. Gabbert may well have time to throw, and when they try to throw deep to Shorts it works. That's their weapon. Short passes, then bombs.
They cannot play what they did against the 49ers at all. The 49ers had no one to challenge Indy deep. If Indy does that v Jax, they'll give up several long bombs.
@Bobman1 Do you live in Van? I work at UBC out on Point Grey.
@hankster I do a weekly piece at Thisgivensunday.com called #TheWorst every Tuesday.
Also a weekly Colts podcast on profootballcentral.com
@mrpenney To be honest I think holding Luck back is more Pagano's doing then Pep's. Stanford was a power team, but they were also very happy to rack up points. I'm speculating, but from their public statements it seems Pagano is far more conservative as well. Pep seems to at least want to experiment. I also assume that since this is his first year as an NFL coach, Pep is more likely to work with in the bounds of what his coach wants.
Anyway, I'm looking forward to the Denver game. I want to know what the game plan is when the Colts play a team who will score. ...a lot.
@mattshedd I have doubts
@DougEngland The tape showed why. Indy invited the pass, openly showing a single high safety. They wanted SF to pass. They loaded up against the run and dared them to throw.
They just couldn't get it done.
@DougEngland Yeah, the lack of running was very odd. The Colts slowed down the run, but they certainly didn't stop it. Everyone in the stadium was confused.
You know, that's an interesting analogy to the 2003 Brady. And if the Colts get the squad to allow Luck to pass more without being sacked 60 times a year, he could later be the Brady that broke Peyton's TD/year record. I hope the coaching staff is an malleable as Belichick's was (gasp, choke, said his name....) and can flex this offense over time to fit the overall pieces. But, I have a feeling Chuck is going to be #Runstrong his whole tenure regardless.