With their fourth away contest in the first six games, Indianapolis will travel to MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. Awaiting them will be a young Jets team coming off a big, 34-16 win against the Denver Broncos in week 5. This Jets team, led by rookie quarterback Sam Darnold, is a bit of a mystery. After destroying the Detroit Lions in week 1 by a score of 48-17, the Jets had been on a 3 game slide before their win against Denver.
Sam Darnold has just been so-so since taking the reins in week 1. His first career game started off great. Completing 76% of his passes and throwing 2 touchdowns in his debut, he seemed to be making a smooth transition to the NFL. Now having completed just 55.7% of his passes on the season, those stellar week 1 numbers have heavily declined. Darnold ranks 33rd among eligible quarterbacks in completion percentage, 21st in passing yards (1,066), and is tied for 20th in passing touchdowns with 7.
Where the Jets are succeeding however, is on the ground. New York has two of the top twenty running backs in Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell. Crowell, coming off a career high 219 rushing yards (15 carries) on Sunday, finds himself ranked 3rd in the NFL in yards (390), 2nd in yards per attempt (6.8), and tied for 2nd in touchdowns with 5. Powell adds another 264 yards (18th) on 59 carries, as a right hook in the Jets 1-2 punch.
The keys to success for Indianapolis, will be as follows:
1) Make the rookie throw: Taking away the running game, and forcing the Jets to be one-dimensional will be critical for a Colts defense who has given up 534 yards on the ground. With Sam Darnold’s passing stats not especially spectacular (7:6 TD/INT ratio), forcing him to throw is the Colts best chance at stopping this Jets offense. Hopefully, after a 10 day break between games, the Colts can return several starters. A brutal barrage of injuries has set them back for the past two games. With all of those injuries, Indianapolis only managed to get one quarterback pressure on Tom Brady in their week 5 game against the New England Patriots. After a few weeks of heartbreaking 4th quarter and overtime losses, the Colts are desperately searching for some good fortune.
2) Don’t drop the ball: Watching the Colts fall behind 24-3 in the first half of last week’s game was rough. Watching wide receiver Zach Pascal drop and deflect a pass that led to an interception on a potential game tying drive, was gut wrenching. Andrew Luck can’t be expected to catch his own passes, and this injury ridden Colts receiving core is dropping a lot of passes. Conservatively counting, the Colts have dropped over a dozen passes in the last two games. A few of those being first downs, while others were dropped in the end zone. Cleaning up the drops is a necessity any week, but especially now, due to Indianapolis being at the bottom of the AFC South and quickly falling out of playoff contention.
3) Control time of possession: Colts rank 30th in time of possession with an average of 27 minutes and 12 seconds, and over the last 3 games its hovered around 25 minutes. Less time with the ball, means less opportunities to put points on the board. What I think we would all like to see is a nice methodical approach, and long lasting drives that end in touchdowns.
4) Continued pass protection: Indianapolis has only given up 10 sacks this year, despite the carousel on the offensive line. Andrew Luck will see his fifth different offensive line this season on Sunday. Rookie guards, Quenton Nelson (6th overall pick) and Braden Smith (37th overall) have performed even better than anticipated and pass protection is excellent so far this year. Luck has had a clean pocket to pass from for most of the season. Solid run blocking however, has been hard to find. Indianapolis ranks 29th in average rushing yards per game (74.4), 27th in yards per attempt (3.7), and tied for 28th in rushing touchdowns with a single Nyheim Hines score. With the return of left tackle Anthony Castonzo and running back Marlon Mack this week, the Colts will hopefully have a boost in their rushing attack.
5) Rush the ball effectively: See point number 4. The Colts can’t seem to get out of their own way when it comes to running the ball. Sometimes it seems as if they’re being stuffed on every attempt, while other times they’ll be breaking off good chunks of yardage, but fumbles or holding penalties negate the good plays. The Colts need to find away to get pressure off of Luck so he won’t have to throw 50+ passes a game, and the easiest way to do that is finding a way tote the rock.
Overall, I think this game will be a grind, but as long as the defense can contain the run, I have Indianapolis squeaking out a win late.
I’m calling this one 23-20 Indianapolis.
Photo Credit: Colts.com