After their bye week and three straight home games, the Colts are taking their first road trip since traveling to Oakland in October. The forecast for tomorrow calls for thunderstorms in the Jacksonville area, so it will be interesting to see if the elements play a factor, especially for an indoor team like the Colts.
Since their week 10 matchup in Indianapolis, this Jaguars team has a wildly different look. Earlier this week, quarterback Blake Bortles was benched in favor of Cody Kessler, they fired their offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Leonard Fournette landed a 1-game suspension after landing a couple punches against the Buffalo Bills, Guard Andrew Norwell was placed on the Injured Reserve, and last but not least, cornerback Jalen Ramsey is questionable (due to injury) to play after starting every game in his NFL career.
As you can see, that’s a lot of changes so I’ll break them down one at a time.
Bortles: Pulling Bortles this week is a bit puzzling to me because, Bortles has historically put up solid numbers against the Colts. Even in the week 10 loss, Bortles threw for 320 yards and 2 touchdowns. Bortles career stats against Indianapolis are 187 of 302, 61.9% completion percentage, 2384 yards, and 14:3 touchdown to interception ratio. He does have a losing record against the Colts overall (4-5), but boasts a 3-1 record in home games against Indy. Cody Kessler has one game of regular season action this year (against Houston Texans), and the results were so-so. On that day Kessler finished 21-30, for 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 1 fumble, and was sacked 4 times in a 20-7 defeat.
Nathaniel Hackett: After coaching a sixth ranked offense that propelled the Jaguars to the AFC championship, many people expected more out of Hackett this year. Unfortunately for him, his offense took a nosedive this year. Falling to 22nd overall in total offense, having to fight through numerous injuries, and overcome poor quarterback play, Hackett just couldn’t hack it in Jacksonville. This Sunday, his former duties will be taken over by quarterbacks coach and interim offensive coordinator Scott Milanovich.
Leonard Fournette: Well, it seems as if the Jaguars’ season of frustration materialized in the form of a Fournette fist fight last week. The second year running back, who has spent much of the season sidelined with a hamstring injury, lost his temper during a loss against the Buffalo Bills. Losing is tough at any point. Jacksonville started out 3-1, and had Super Bowl aspirations to begin the year, but they have now fallen to 3-8, and are in the mix for a top 10 draft pick. The raw emotion of that disappointment has reared it’s ugly head, and the Jaguars are no better for it.
Andrew Norwell: The highest paid guard in the NFL, will unfortunately be sidelined for the rest of the 2018 season. An ankle injury sustained in Sunday’s loss to the Buffalo Bills adds to the seemingly never ending list of injuries to the Jacksonville offensive line. Left tackle Cam Robinson, Center Brandon Linder, and backup left tackle Josh Wells were all critical losses. Norwell seems to be the final nail in the coffin for this beat up o-line. Good luck back there Cody Kessler!
Jalen Ramsey: One of the NFL’s most talented young cornerbacks could miss the first game of his career on Sunday. Starting the week off with back-to-back “Did Not Practice” designations, the All-Pro finally logged a limited practice on Friday. Ramsey will be listed as questionable, with no word on whether he will even be available.
The Colts are not without their own set of injuries this week. Jack Doyle’s season came to an end this week, as he suffered a kidney injury that came at the end of Indianapolis’ win against the Miami Dolphins. The tight end spot, which had been a great position for depth, became much more shallow this week. Tight end Mo Alie-Cox is listed as OUT for this week’s matchup as well. This leaves Indy with Eric Ebron, and either Ryan Hewitt or Eric Swoope to fill the TE2 gap. Center Ryan Kelly will miss this week as well. After sustaining a knee injury against Miami, Kelly was unable to practice all week. Quite a few names are listed on the “questionable” designation, but most names in the list should play. The biggest concern of the “questionable” list is probably running back Marlon Mack, who is making his way back from a concussion.
Now that you’re all caught up, let’s talk about this weekend’s game. With all of the changes that Jacksonville has endured just over the course of this week, I have trouble believing they’ll be as competitive as a Bortles-led team. Granted, Kessler has some playing time this year, but changing coordinators and having to deal will several key injuries/suspensions to offensive players will be Cody Kessler’s bane this weekend. I’ll be looking for Darius Leonard, Malik Hooker and the rest of the Colts’ defense to force several turnovers.
For the Colts offense, sticking to fundamentals and just finding a way to move the chains will be critical. It’s supposed to be rainy and sloppy and gross. This week Indianapolis has to protect the ball and figure out a way to be effective on the ground. I think the rain might slow down this fast paced offense a little bit, so maintaining possession with slow methodical drives will be imperative. Andrew Luck has thrown at least 3 touchdowns in 8 straight games. This week however, Luck might need to take a back seat to his running backs and let them keep the ball dry. In week 10, Colts running backs ran for 85 yards on 16 carries, including a big 53 yard scamper by Jordan Wilkins. They’ll need that kind of big play production this week against a defense that still ranks 9th overall.
I think this game might be a lot closer that many may want to believe. If the elements play a factor in this game, Indianapolis’ fast offense, may have to take what the conditions give them. That being said, I don’t think a banged up Cody Kessler-led offense out duels Andrew Luck and company. I’ve got Indianapolis winning their 6th straight to stay close behind Houston in the AFC South hunt.
Indianapolis: 24 Jacksonville: 13
Photo credit: Colts.com