by Kent Sterling
Assessing what the Colts need to do to beat a team like the Jacksonville Jaguars isn’t brain surgery. Getting the players to execute a game plan design to cause those results is the tough part, and Chick Pagano’s players have become apt pupils the last three Sundays.
The Colts 30-10 pasting of the hapless Jaguars was the third consecutive double digit win, and carried them to a perfect 6-0 record against their AFC South brethren. They enter the playoffs as the #4 seed because the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals won their games to secure the second and third seeds, but might be playing as well as any NFL team.
For the second time in three weeks, the Colts will play the Kansas City Chiefs for the right to travel to either Denver or Foxboro, but that’s putting the cart before the horse. Today’s win was as impressive as it was easy to predict.
On Friday, I posted the five keys to a Colts victory, and the Colts came through as predicted in most areas. Here are the keys and results (hey, I’m not right all that often, so excuse my self indulgent back slapping):
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).
The Jaguars totaled 42 yards on the ground on 16 carries, and Maurice Jones-Drew might have played his last game as a Jag without a lot of fanfare – or production. The free agent-to-be ran the ball 13 times for 39 yards. His longest carry was for only six yards. With a quarterback like Chad Henne, there was no way for the Jaguars to compete without being able to run the ball.
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.
The Colts decided that throwing the ball was a more effective way to attack the suspect Jacksonville defense. They ran for 80 yards, while throwing for 299. None of the Colts averaged more than 3.6 yards per carry, but it was enough to move the chains, and put 30 points on the board. I missed this one, but the Jags threw me a curve ball by being terrible at every area of defense.
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.
This is the brain dead key every week. There is no event more important to the result of an NFL contest than giveaways and takeaways, and that worked in the Colts favor today as safety Antoine Bethea picked off a Chad Henne pass and Darius Butler scooped up a Jones-Drew fumble, while the Colts managed another clean day in the turnover department.
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.
Luck was sacked only once, and was hit only four times. That’s a relatively safe afternoon for Luck, so it would be foolish to criticize the offensive line for anything – regardless of whether Nixon or Reitz or McGlynn or Thornton played.
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.
Total cop out on the fifth key. The route to success against the Jaguars is not complicated, so there was no need for a fifth.
Colts win 27-9, and will be seeded fourth as the Bengals and Pats both win.
That’s pretty damn good for me. If I was regularly that good at guessing scores, I would be betting on games instead of writing about them.
So now the real football starts, and the first test is against the Chiefs. The Colts figured out how to beat them soundly on December 22nd at Arrowhead, so if the Colts have truly become more predictable, beating them shouldn’t be a problem. We all know better than that, but let’s wait until Wednesday to anoint Alex Smith the second coming of Joe Montana and Jamaal Charles another Roger Craig.
They are the Chiefs – and the Chiefs spent the 2013 season beating bad teams while losing to the good. The combined record of the 11 teams they beat is 58-116, while those who they lost to finished the season 55-25. Minus Dallas and Philadelphia in weeks 2 and 3, the Chiefs haven’t beaten a team with a winning record.
That’s a topic for another day. Tonight we celebrate, and I gloat.