INDIANAPOLIS —We've got the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Indianapolis Colts matching up on Sunday in their 2017 Week 13 AFC South showdown at EverBank Field.
With an inside scoop on the opposition heading into the game, we check in with John Oehser, a senior writer for the Jaguars and their website, Jaguars.com (follow John on Twitter @JohnOehser):
Walker:Now John, last time we talked, the Jaguars were definitely on the right track, but they were also pretty inconsistent, alternating wins and losses the first six weeks of the season and coming into their Week 7 matchup against the Colts at 3-3. But they would have 10 sacks in that game, blow out the Colts 27-0, and it really seemed to spark Jacksonville, which went on a four-game winning streak that just ended here last Sunday against the Cardinals. But what do you think it was about that Week 7 game against the Colts that really got the Jaguars going?**
"It was a very good matchup for the Jaguars. From a distance, certainly, the Colts' offensive line seems to be struggling at times and allowing sacks, and that's the strength of this Jaguars team. When they know that you have to pass, they have been very good at not only getting to the quarterback, but getting the ball out, making sure they get the guy down. That was actually their second game with 10 sacks — they had 10 sacks in the opener — so it felt like one of those games that day where a good matchup, meaning the Jaguars' defensive line and the Colts' offensive line, sort of took everything else out of the equation and dwarfed everything else. I'm not sure that even the Jaguars thought that they were 27 points better that day, but it was one of those games where the Colts really couldn't handle the rush that day, and as a result everything just kind of snowballed. So from the Jaguars' point of view, it sparked them in a sense that they were able to get a tight win a week later against the Bengals when they sort of pulled away at the end, and then they won a couple of close games. So they sort of, for the first time in a long time around here, they started walking with a little bit of a bounce to their step and started believing that they were good. They've been bad for a long time, then they had had trouble getting that second win in a row, so it was really the next week against the Bengals when they backed up the Colts win that they sort of felt like a team that, 'OK, now we're going to separate a little bit and get into the hunt' — and they still are. They lost to Arizona last week, but this team still feels like it's got a chance to, if it gets a couple wins here, put itself in a good situation."Walker: Despite their success to this point, however, Jacksonville enters Sunday's game against the Colts still tied with the Tennessee Titans atop the AFC South standings at 7-4 — I mean, the way things have gone through 12 weeks this season you would've thought the Jaguars were running away with this thing, but it looks like it's still going to be a dogfight the rest of the way between these two teams. We touched on this last time we talked, but what would it mean for the Jaguars to pull this thing out and win a division title?Oehser: "Well, for this team, the first step this year for this franchise was to get out of their double-digit loss streak. They had double-digit losses, I think it was, since 2011. So they needed to get back to competitiveness. They're clearly back there; being 7-4 means they're not going to have double-digit losses. They're out of that. But they've put themselves in a situation now where they can make the playoffs. To win the division, I think for this team — even to get in and be among the six teams that are playing after the season from the AFC — it would show the team that they're on the right track, it would show that you can do it here, which it had been so long that there were people, — not around the organization, but nationally — that sort of dismissed the Jaguars of ever having a chance. So getting back in the playoffs, getting back in the mix has been important to sort of validate what the people running the team always believed, which is that clearly you can win anywhere, you can win here, and that this team has the foundation going forward to do that."Walker:Obviously the run game and the defense continues to lead the way for Jacksonville … we'll first go with the defense. First in total defense, first against the pass and they have the most sacks of any team in the NFL. I think when we saw the free agents brought in this offseason matched with a couple really good draft choices that this defense could be pretty good, but are you surprised with the results even this quickly?Oehser:"I think anybody would be, because you obviously don't expect to lead the league in yards allowed — as of last week they led in points allowed; I'm not sure if they're still in first place in that, but they're up there; they're as good as anybody in not allowing points. What you really can't predict, though, with the defense is that they would be as good at forcing mistakes and getting points off those mistakes. They've had six defensive touchdowns, which is borderline absurd — nobody gets that. And they get them in key situations. It's almost become a point where, I don't want to say you're surprised when they don't get one, but it's no longer a surprise (that) when they need a big play defensively … you know, back in the days when I covered the Colts, when they were leading late in the game, you got to the point where you expected (Dwight) Freeney and (Robert) Mathis to close it out with a sack-fumble. It's almost getting to that point with these guys, where you feel like when they need a big play defensively, you're not surprised when they get it. The other day they lost to the Cardinals, but late in that game they were down 16-10 — got a sack-fumble to go ahead. Later in the game, got an interception that really should've given them the game; they returned the favor, but they got an interception to get the ball back in the last four minutes. This defense makes winning plays, and creates situations to score and win, and that's really what separates it — even good defenses have trouble sometimes doing that, so that's what sets the Jaguars' defense apart. And I don't think anybody could've imagined that you would have a perfect storm like that sort of come out of nowhere just because of free agency. Usually it doesn't happen, but it did here."Walker: Then the run game … still first in the league with 154.3 rushing yards per game, but do you think opposing defenses are starting to figure it out a little bit? The last time they hit their average was that Week 7 game against the Colts, and Leonard Fournette had just 25 yards last week against the Cardinals? What's up with that?Oehser: "Well, the run game is a little bit of a mystery down here in the sense that, yes it's leading the lead statistically and it has the most yards, which means it's the No. 1 offense in the league in terms of the run. But it has not been as consistent as they would like and as they need, and in the last three games they've really struggled with it. They're hoping that the return of Jermey Parnell, the right tackle, can give them a little bit of a lift this week — they think he may be able to play. This is a team that's hit a lot of big plays in the running game — and that's been great — but what it really needs … in these last five games, what has to happen for this team to go anywhere to get back to what it was, it needs consistency with it, it needs to have more four- and five-yard runs to create third-and-manageable. That's what it really hasn't gotten. I don't know if it will do that — it hasn't been that kind of an offense yet this year, but it certainly needs to in these last five games. It's absolutely key."