by Kent Sterling
If the Colts could choose their Week 17 opponent as they gear up for the postseason and fight for a higher seed – perhaps even a first round bye – the decision would be a no-brainer. They choose the Jacksonville Jaguars.
With due respect to the putrid football being played by the Washington Redskins and Houston Texans, the Jags are the only team in the NFL without a single dynamic player. They are mediocre-to-bad everywhere, and should have no chance at all to beat any playoff team – especially one that bludgeoned them 37-3 earlier in the season at their place.
But this Colts team is capable of playing some pretty bad football themselves. If the team that lost at home 38-8 to the St. Louis Rams shows up Sunday, the Jags have a shot at ending their season on a high note – putting together a 5-3 second half.
The Colts have a mind-boggling 27 players on their injury report, including 16 on IR. Safety Antoine Bethea is doubtful after playing a very solid game at Kansas City, and normally that would be a problem, but against Jacksonville, a weekend of rest and healing before the real season begins isn’t all bad.
The Colts easy answer for beating the Jags is to do everything they did on September 29th, including outrushing them 157-40, outgaining them through the air 280-165, and winning the turnover battle 3-1.
There are some differences for the Jags this time around. Benched is Blaine Gabbert, replaced by Chad Henne. You’re right in thinking swapping Henne for Gabbert is like trading in a 1974 Pinto for a 1976 Vega (younger readers – those two cars were not only humiliating to drive, but potentially hazardous). Henne has not had a 100 passer rating in any of the 12 games he has started this season, and hasn’t thrown for 300 yards since receiver Justin Blackmon’s suspension.
Still, before we get all nutty and think this is a walkover, the Jags are 4-3 since their bye. Those four wins were against Cleveland, Tennessee, and twice against Houston, but who are the Colts to scoff at wins against AFC South opponents?
We take all opponents seriously at kentsterling.com, so here are the five keys to beating the Jaguars this Sunday:
Stop the run (or make Chad Henne beat you) – When Jacksonville runs the ball for more than 100 yards, they are 3-1. During their lone loss with 100+ rushing yards, they gave the ball away four times. Maurice Jones-Drew is only 28, but that’s 12 in dog years, which is 84 in people years and 164 in giant tortoise years. He’s averaging a career low 3.5 yards (previous low – 4.2 yards), despite relative good health. He’ll split time with Justin Todman, whose 261 rushing yards were principally a result of a 109 yard effort two weeks ago against the Bills. The Colts have allowed less than 100 yards rushing only twice in 2013 – in week seven against the Broncos (64), and week four against the Jags (40).
Run right, left, and middle – When the Jaguars allow more than 100 yards rushing, they lose. When they hold teams to less than 100 yards, they are 4-1 – the one loss coming to the Arizona Cardinals, when Bruce Arians decided to beat them through the air. The Cards racked up 402 or their 416 total yards through the air.
Take it away – The Colts have generated nine turnovers in their last three wins. They have a total of 22 takeaways in their 10 wins, and two takeaways in five losses. Wow. I had to check that twice to make sure that was right. They are 8-0 in games that feature two or more takeaways, and 2-5 in those that don’t. I just read that to my son, and he said, “There always some correlation with numbers, isn’t there!” All these years talking about the relevance of statistics, and that’s the return volley I get.
Questionable offensive linemen heal – I’m not sure the Colts will have an offensive line available for the game Sunday if somebody listed as questionable on the injury report isn’t able to play. Jeff Linkenbach, Mike McGlynn, Hugh Thornton, and Joe Reitz are all questionable. The franchise will need to leave the field upright for the Colts to have hope for postseason success, and the men standing between Andrew Luck and the angry if untalented Jaguar pass rush are all that will keep him healthy. If I’m offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, I’m going to have Luck hand the ball to backs and throw quick passes.
Execute the first four keys – Yeah, this is cheating as a fifth key because if the Colts execute the first four keys, a fifth is unnecessary. This game comes down to the Colts having enough healthy bodies up front to be able to move the chains by running the ball, and forcing the Jags to cough put it on the turf. Knowing what needs to be done is the easy part of football. Implementing a game plan is what the coaches get paid for. Predicting the level of success the Colts will enjoy from week-to-week is a fool’s errand, and for that reason, I’m among the smartest gamblers in the world because I don’t bet games – ever.
One more time, here are the Colts playoff scenarios – lose and they are the fourth seed. Win and the Bengals beat the Ravens in Cincinnati and Patriots beat the Bills in Foxboro – the Colts are the fourth seed. Now, the good stuff – win and the Bengals win while the Patriots lose – Colts are the third seed. Win and the Bengals lose while the Pats win – Colts are the third seed. Win while both the Bengals and Pats lose, Colts earn a first round bye as the #2 seed.
Colts win 27-9, and will be seeded fourth as the Bengals and Pats both win.