Few Surprises when Colts Play Jacksonville Jaguars
INDIANAPOLIS – To Gary Brackett's way of thinking, the only surprise for the Colts on Sunday will be if there was a surprise.
Not likely, Brackett says. Not considering the opponent.
Brackett, the Colts' middle linebacker and defensive captain, said the Colts' game this weekend will feature a lot of things: high-profile match-ups; big-time players; high stakes.
What it won't feature is a whole lot of uncertainty.
The Colts' opponent, after all, is the Jacksonville Jaguars – an AFC South opponent and a team the Colts have played twice a season the past nine seasons.
The teams are competitive. They're evenly-matched.
And they have a pretty good idea by now of what the other wants to do.
"We're very familiar with what they're going to do, and they're familiar with us," Brackett said as the Colts (7-6) prepared to play the AFC South-leading Jaguars (8-5) at Lucas Oil Stadium in downtown Indianapolis Sunday at 1 p.m.
"It boils down to execution," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "We have a pretty good idea of what they're going to do, and they have a pretty good idea of what we're going to do. It's just whoever does what they do best."
How familiar? Consider:
The teams not only have played one another every season since 2002, they have during that span been two of the more stable franchises in the NFL.
The Colts, who have won six of the past seven AFC South titles, have utilized essentially the same offense since 1998, the year they drafted quarterback Peyton Manning first overall and hired Tom Moore as the offensive coordinator. Moore ran the offense until last season, and is now an offensive assistant with Clyde Christensen filling the coordinator role.
And while Tony Dungy, hired as the Colts' coach in 2002, retired from the position following the 2008 season, much of the coaching staff has remained intact over the last nine seasons.
Jim Caldwell, the Colts' head coach, was an assistant under Dungy from 2002-08, and assistant coaches such as defensive line coach John Teerlinck, linebackers coach Mike Murphy, running backs coach Gene Huey and secondary coach Alan Williams have been with the team since the NFL re-aligned and moved Jacksonville and Indianapolis into the same division in 2002.
A year later, Jack Del Rio took over as the Jaguars' coach, and while Jacksonville's coaching staff has featured more turnover than that of Indianapolis, Del Rio's coaching style of emphasizing the run and playing tough and aggressive on defense has remained critical to the team's philosophy.
"There's not many surprises," Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney said. "Sure, you're going to have a wrinkle here and a wrinkle there, but for the most part, they're not going to change the identity of who they are just because they're playing us, and we're not going to change who we are. It's going to be pretty much who executes better."
There's familiarity among the players, too.
While roster turnover is an NFL reality in the free-agency/salary cap era, many of the Colts' core players – wide receiver Reggie Wayne, quarterback Peyton Manning, center Jeff Saturday, Brackett, Freeney and defensive end Robert Mathis – have played eight or more seasons.
That's more than 15 Jaguars-Colts games, and players such as center Brad Meester, cornerback Rashean Mathis have played just as many games for Jacksonville.
Jaguars quarterback David Garrard, who made his first NFL start as a little-known rookie in 2002 against Indianapolis, also has played a key long-term role in the series, and Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has had enough big games against Indianapolis to also be a defining player in the series history.
"It works both ways," Manning said. "Certainly, Jacksonville is very familiar with our offense. Our offense has been the same. Their defensive scheme has changed through the years with different defensive coordinators. It has been the same the past couple of years. They are playing really well right now. . . . Like we say week-in and week-out, it probably comes down to execution.
"You're not going to trick them. It's not going to be a lot of fooling the team out there as much as it's going to be who can execute their offense or defense better."
Such familiarity often gives division games a different dynamic than non-division games, and the difficulty of playing a division opponent can be seen in the Colts-Jaguars series.
The Jaguars and Colts have played 17 times since the 2002 inception of the AFC South, with the Colts winning 12 times. The last six meetings have been decided by seven points or less, with the Colts winning four times and the Jaguars winning this season and in Indianapolis, 23-21, in Week 3 of the 2007 regular season.
The Jaguars beat the Colts, 31-28, in Week 4 this season, when kicker Josh Scobee kicked a 59-yard field goal on the game's final play. It was the third time since 2004 the Jaguars have beaten the Colts on a late-game field goal by Scobee.
"Within our division, it's kind of the way it is," Caldwell said. "It's just a tough division that's highly competitive where you have a lot of teams that play well against one another. When you think about that, how tight it is and how tough it is, there's not much room for error.
"That, I think, is the way it's going to be."
Said Brackett, "You know the other team so much that you just know things that went on years and years ago. If you're playing Philadelphia, you're just playing off technique and what the defense calls for. You're not familiar with everything they have in their arsenal. But Jacksonville, you've been watching film on them for years.
"When you have a day off, you're watching the division team to see how they're doing, so you see what type of game plan those guys have."