**A Capsule Look at the Colts' Thursday Night Showdown Against the Jaguars
Indianapolis Colts (13-0) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-6)
Thursday, December 17, 2009 (8:20 p.m. EST)
Jacksonville Municipal Stadium (67,164 capacity) – Jacksonville, Fla.
Television/Radio: NFL Network (local airing on WXIN-TV) and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1
It is "business as usual" for the Indianapolis Colts, who are approaching their Thursday night game against the Jacksonville Jaguars exactly like the 13 games that preceded it this season.
With a 28-16 victory over the Denver Broncos last week in the books, the Colts clinched the No. 1 seed and wrapped up homefield advantage through the AFC playoffs. In addition, the team extended its regular-season winning streak to 22 games, an NFL record.
But the Colts have no plans to take their foot off the gas this week, despite having every regular-season goal already in hand.
"We've been in a good rhythm and there's no reason to break it at this point," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "So we took a look at where we are and our guys are feeling good and eager to play, so we're going to turn it loose."
After defeating the Broncos last week, the Colts only had a few days to prepare for their Thursday night showdown at Jacksonville.
While practice time is severely limited, there is a positive: familiarity. Indianapolis has played Jacksonville twice a season since 2002 and defeated the Jaguars in the regular-season opener, 14-12.
Center Jeff Saturday said even with homefield advantage clinched, the Colts always look forward to going against an AFC South rival on the gridiron.
"Any time you play someone in your division, you want to take care of business and beat the teams you are going to play twice a year," Saturday said. "I don't think there are any division opponents that are truly friendly with another…we fought like cats and dogs in Week 1, so I don't expect this game to be any different."
The Colts have won seven of their last nine games against the Jaguars and lead the all-time series, 13-4. With a victory Thursday, the Colts would finish the season a perfect 6-0 against divisional opponents.
Although the regular season is close to being in the Colts' rearview mirror, quarterback Peyton Manning said the team is locked in on the Jaguars.
"The plan is business as usual," Manning said. "That's kind of what we've done all week. This team truly has bought into Coach Caldwell's approach about one week at a time, one opponent at a time.
"It's served us well up to this point, and that's really the same approach (we are taking) this week," Manning said.
Despite their perfect 13-0 record thus far this season, the Colts are not "operating on all cylinders right now," according to their head coach.
But Caldwell thinks that might end up being a good thing.
"It gives us a lot to work on and get ourselves in a little bit better position to be a highly effective team in the playoffs," he said.
Even with what Caldwell called "inconsistent" play over the last few weeks, the Colts have been extremely impressive this season in almost every facet of the game.
Led by Manning, the team boasts the No. 1 passing offense in the league (296.4 yards per game), and the fourth-best offense overall.
In the red zone, the team is tops in the AFC and second in the NFL in touchdown percentage inside the 20, with 61.4% of their red zone possessions resulting in TDs.
On the offensive line, the Colts' veteran group is allowing just one sack per every 51.4 pass attempts, the best average in the league.
And in the backfield, running back Joseph Addai is fourth in the NFL in combined (rushing/receiving) touchdowns with 12.
Manning said Addai might be the most overlooked player on the offense, but said he appreciates his backfield mate a great deal.
"He's running the ball hard, he's sticking it in there, and he's pass protecting well," Manning said. "We're real thankful for what he's done for us this year."
On defense, the Colts have been equally impressive this season, allowing just 16.7 points per game, the second-fewest in the league, while generating six red zone turnovers, the most in the NFL.
But what might be most remarkable about the team's defensive unit is the fact that they have not allowed a touchdown after a turnover all season (18 turnovers, nine field goals).
"That is just a testament to the guys up front rushing the passer, filling the gaps, our secondary playing stout and our linebackers flying around and hitting," defensive captain Gary Brackett said.
Colts' opponents have taken notice of the defense's outstanding play this season, including Jacksonville running back Maurice-Jones Drew.
"Clint Session is playing lights out right now," Jones-Drew said. "Gary Brackett is doing everything he's done before and doing it at a higher level. (Melvin) Bullitt just came in and he's stepping up and filling in for Bob Sanders, and he's been doing a great job.
"And then you've got these young corners, and you expect them not to play well, and they're 'd-ing' up Randy Moss and Andre Johnson," he said. "They've got guys that are stepping up, and I don't even want to talk about the defensive line. We already know what they do."
With the defense posing so many threats this season, Caldwell said the group is amongst the best he has seen during his tenure in Indianapolis.
"This particular defense is playing awfully well right now," he said.
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE JAGUARS
Having already played the Jaguars this season, the Colts are plenty accustomed to their division opponent.
"A lot of the players on that team are very familiar with us. And we're familiar with them," Manning said. "There is not a lot of trickery or surprises, just hard-nosed football.
"You'll get a little bit of everything from them, potentially. We have to be prepared for the unexpected. The main thing is for us to do our jobs well, try to move the ball, get in the end zone, finish our drives in the red zone, and the defense will hopefully cause some turnovers and keep them out of the end zone."
The Jaguars have had an up-and-down season since losing to the Colts in Week 1, splitting their first six games of the season, then going on a three-game winning streak in the middle of November. Recently, Jacksonville has lost two of its last three, but remains amidst a playoff race.
The team's rushing attack remains its strongest suit – ranking eighth in the league –led by Jones-Drew, who rushed 21 times for 97 yards and a touchdown against the Colts in the season-opener.
"I think Maurice has been a stud," Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio said. "I think he's been great all year. He's been the focal point of our offense, and he's delivered."
On defense, the Jaguars rank 20th overall, but are 14th in the NFL against the rush. Their defense had success against the Colts in Week 1, holding Indianapolis to a season-low 14 points and forcing two turnovers.
But Caldwell said the Colts have to do more than just look at the film from Week 1 and correcting mistakes in preparing for the Jaguars.
"You have to go into it a bit differently because we played them previously," Caldwell said. "If you do the same things over and over again in some situations, then maybe they can get a beat on you. We take a fresh, new look at them. We started a little bit last week because we knew we were going to have a short week. They present some problems for you."
The Colts issued the game status/injury report on Wednesday with the following players listed as probable: RBs-Joseph Addai (knee) and Chad Simpson (back), DBs-Antoine Bethea (foot), Melvin Bullitt (shoulder), Kelvin Hayden (knee), Tim Jennings (ankle) and Jacob Lacey (biceps), LBs-Gary Brackett (foot) and Clint Session (calf), DEs-Raheem Brock (back) and Keyunta Dawson (knee), OGs-Kyle DeVan (shin) and Jamey Richard (shoulder), OTs-Ryan Diem (hamstring) and Tony Ugoh (hip), WRs-Pierre Garcon (knee) and Reggie Wayne (foot), QB-Peyton Manning (glute), DT-Daniel Muir (hamstring) and TE-Tom Santi (hand).
Listed as questionable are: DT-Eric Foster (back), DEs-Dwight Freeney (abdomen) and Robert Mathis (quad) and OT-Charlie Johnson (foot), while the following players are listed as out: RB-Donald Brown (chest), DBs-Aaron Francisco (ankle) and Jerraud Powers (hamstring), WR-Anthony Gonzalez (knee) and K-Adam Vinatieri (right knee).
• "I think there's probably a natural reaction when you look at how good they are that you don't want to get embarrassed, and you better get ready to play well because if you don't, they'll embarrass you. Our guys, I think there's a respect, but there's also a grit and determination thing, 'We're going to go challenge these guys.' I think it's probably a combination of things." – Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio on if his team gets particularly fired up when they play the Colts
• "We will approach this game like we do any other ballgame. We are not going to assign a number of plays to any players. We didn't do that for any of the other 13 we played, and we won't do it for the 14th." – Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell on if his players were see limited action Thursday
• "Dallas means so much to our offense because of what he does to the defense. Take Denver for example, they played Ty Law, one of the top cover corners around, on him the entire game. That tells you what they think of him. They think of him like an elite receiver. He can dictate what a defense can do, personnel-wise. It can allow you to call plays accordingly. His presence alone can dictate some things. His ability to make plays and make tough catches in traffic and to run with the ball after the catch; the one touchdown the other day, caught a short pass, broke a tackle and dove in the end zone. He's got that nose for the end zone. He's having his best year that he's had. He's really been having great seasons for a long time. I'll say this, Dallas wasn't really disappointed that Tony Gonzalez got traded to the NFC. I think he finally is getting a little more national attention now, but he's always been really appreciated in this building." – Colts quarterback Peyton Manning on tight end Dallas Clark's importance to the team
STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR…
1) A BIG GAME FROM NO. 87
Few teams have had success shutting down wide receiver Reggie Wayne over the years. Wayne has totaled over 100 receiving yards in five of his last six games against the Jaguars, including a 10-catch, 162-yard performance against them in the season-opener.
His 87 receptions on the season rank second in the NFL, and his 1,078 receiving yards and nine touchdowns both rank fourth in the league.
"He just goes about his business," Caldwell said. "He is a true professional. He is drawing some extra attention because he's been so effective."
Wayne also is just 69 receiving yards short of passing Colts legend and Hall of Fame member Raymond Berry for the second-most yards in team history, trailing only Marvin Harrison. In addition, Wayne needs just seven more touchdowns to surpass Berry's career total of 68, which also is the second-most in team history.
"Anything I can do to help get Reggie or Dallas (Clark) the ball, I know they would be in favor of that," Manning said. "I certainly would too, because good things happen when those guys get the ball."
2) MINIMIZING YELLOW FLAGS
In addition to making the playoffs the last eight seasons, the Colts also are the third-least penalized team over the eight-year span.
With 5.48 penalties per game, the Colts rank behind only the New York Jets (4.96) and Seattle Seahawks (5.38) for the best mark since 2002.
This season, the Colts have committed just 63 penalties, the second-fewest in the NFL.
"It's something we've always tried to preach," Caldwell said. "We've always talked about poise in ballgames. We talk about dealing with penalties and dealing with issues when emotions are high. Being able to keep poise under that kind of pressure is something you have to talk about."
Caldwell said his team benefits from keeping a cool and calm demeanor in tight situations.
"We talk about that so guys can get in their minds how to react in those particular situations," he said. "And it ends up working in our favor."
3) THIS WEEK AND THIS WEEK ONLY
The theme around the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center this week centered on preparing for Jacksonville – and nothing else.
"We're just going to treat it like the previous 13 games that we've played," Caldwell said. "We're going to get ready and keep our rhythm, and go out to win this ballgame against a very tough Jacksonville team."
Caldwell, who has been asked just about every question imaginable about his strategy for the last three weeks of the regular season, said he and his team are not looking past the Jaguars.
"We're only talking about this game, and that's it," Caldwell said. "Next week, we'll look at next week. They all have their own little idiosyncrasies and differences. So, we'll kind of deal with that next week. That's kind of the way we've approached it all season long. We just stay focused, and we don't want to lose that rhythm. We're playing well up to this point, a lot of things we can still work on to get better, but that's where we are."