INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts (6-5) hosted the Jacksonville Jaguars (3-8) just three weeks ago, but already so much has changed since their last meeting, especially for the Jacksonville offense.
Jaguars starting center Brandon Linder and left guard Andrew Norwell were both placed on injured reserve, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was fired and replaced with Scott Milanovich, quarterback Blake Bortles was benched in favor of Cody Kessler, and running back Leonard Fournette was suspended.
Safe to say that there are fewer specifics from the last matchup that the Colts can focus on this week.
The Jaguars lost to the Buffalo Bills (4-7) last week, 24-21 — a team that the Colts defeated in Week 7 by a score of 37-5.
A melee broke out late in the third quarter on Sunday in which Fournette and Bills defensive end Shaq Lawson were both ejected, hence Fournette's one-game suspension this week (which he is reportedly appealing).
It was a hard-fought (literally), back and forth affair, perfect for those that love defense and the run game as the two teams combined for 393 yards on the ground.
The Bills scored the first two touchdowns of the game — a six-yard run by Isaiah McKenzie and a 75-yard pass from Josh Allen to Robert Foster. The Jaguars then answered with two of their own Fournette touchdown runs of five and one yard, respectively. And then, two more Buffalo scores when Allen ran one in from 14 yards out and Stephen Hauschka knocked in a 22-yard field goal. The Jaguars couldn't muster enough at the end, however, although they did get a 13-yard score from Bortles to Dede Westbrook with under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
With all of the changes on the Jacksonville offense, let's focus more on their defense for now.
They held Buffalo to 2-of-10 on third down and just 160 yards passing (35 in the second half). While Allen didn't have a big day through the air, he did run for 99 yards on 13 carries. The Jaguars were unable to sack Allen or force any turnovers.
We can probably take what we know about Jacksonville's offense and throw it out the window for now.
"I mean for me, the runners depending on what happens there – they have two great runners, or three depending on what happens. That's not really going to affect what goes on. They are all capable runners and talented players," Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus told reporters when asked how he prepares for a team they recently played but has undergone this amount of change.
"Relative to the quarterback, he has played in this league. He has started what, six (eight) games? In 2016, I know he started some games there. He has played half the game in Houston this week. So he's more than a capable quarterback. We know in the NFL, every week is a challenge and every week you've got to be ready to play. This is a division game down there in Jacksonville. It's going to be a great challenge for our defense and for our football team."
Bortles and Fournette have played well against the Colts in the past, but they now give way to Kessler at quarterback and Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon at running back. Tyler Shatley (Pro Football Focus grade of 45.6) has been Jacksonville's center since Linder went down, and Chris Reed (60.5 grade) came in at left guard for Norwell last week.
In Week 10, the Colts beat the Jaguars, 29-26. Indianapolis totaled 366 yards of offense (285 passing and 81 rushing) compared to Jacksonville's 415.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was 21-of-29 passing (72.4 percent) for 285 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. Wide receivers T.Y. Hilton and tight end Eric Ebron led the way as pass catchers, combining for six receptions for 146 yards, with Ebron scoring twice on receptions and another on the ground.
After he had averaged 133.7 yards of offense in the three games prior, Colts running back Marlon Mack was held in check by the Jaguars to the tune of 38 total yards on 14 touches.
Looking ahead to this week's matchup, the Colts have a golden opportunity in front of them to continue their march towards a playoff spot. Currently the AFC's seventh seed, the Colts need to keep up their winning ways to lock up at least a wild card spot.
While Kessler is Jacksonville's backup quarterback, he does have NFL experience as Eberflus pointed out. In 13 career games, the third-year quarterback averages 127 yards passing and has thrown seven touchdowns to four interceptions.
In the run game, the Jaguars have a pair of talented backs in place of Fournette in Hyde and Yeldon. Before being traded to Jacksonville this season, Hyde had 411 yards of offense and five touchdowns in six games for the Cleveland Browns. Yeldon has been a thorn in the Colts' side in the past, averaging 85.7 yards of offense and scoring once against the Colts in six career games.
2018 KEY STATS
- 9th in third down offense (43%)
- 24th in red zone offense (52.0%)
- Tied for 26th in rushing touchdowns (6)
- Tied for 27th in turnovers (22)
- 27th in pass completion percentage (61.3%)
- 28th in scoring (17.9 PPG)
- 29th in passer rating (81.8)
- 30th in fumbles (18) and 32nd in lost fumbles (11)
- 30th in turnover differential (-11)
- Tied for 1st in fourth down defense (29%)
- Tied for 2nd in touchdown passes allowed (15)
- 3rd in pass defense (205.6 YPG)
- Tied for 4th in pass plays of 20-plus yards allowed (30)
- 5th in overall defense (320.2 YPG)
- 5th in opponent passer rating (86.6)
- 8th in scoring defense (22.1 PPG)
- 9th in third down defense (37%)
- Tied for 24th in takeaways (11)
- Tied for 27th in sacks (21)