INDIANAPOLIS – He will be the shortest player on the field on Sunday, but the five-foot, seven-inch frame of Maurice Jones-Drew will not fool anyone.
The 210-pound Jones-Drew will be the third straight Pro Bowl back the Colts have faced to start the 2012 season.
Many Colts players are familiar with the type of damage "MJD" can inflict on a defense. He has an average of 101 rushing yards per game in his 12 career contests with Indianapolis and since 2010, he leads the entire NFL with 3,067 rushing yards.
"Everybody knows across the league what (Jones-Drew) can do and what he can bring. It's going to be a fight," defensive end Cory Redding said.
"At the end of the day you know he's going to get the ball at least 30-40 times, so you just have to gear up and when he's coming downhill the first guy to hit him must hold on and everybody else rally around. That's just pretty much going to be the mindset first and foremost, taking away what they do best."
The Colts defense has stood tall in its first two tests against some of the premier backs in the NFL.
Against Matt Forte, the Colts held the Bears Pro Bowl running back to 80 yards rushing.
The next week against the Vikings' Adrian Peterson, the defense improved on its average by allowing just 60 yards to the Pro Bowl performer.
It has been an impressive start to the season for the rush defense and Head Coach Chuck Pagano credited the players' ability to adapt to a new system for the success.
"These guys have come a long way in a short period of time," Pagano said. "I was talking to a guy like Robert (Mathis) and what he's been able to do in a short period of time, going from a system that he was involved with for 10 years and then standing up and playing all the different things, he's setting the edge as good as anybody on our defense right now."
"Upfront, the guys that were here (it's a) totally different deal as far as controlling the line of scrimmage, playing square, knocking them back, gap control, those types of things. I think we're starting to see the benefits in their hard work and them buying into the techniques that Gary (Emanuel) and Greg (Manusky) and everyone on defense is teaching them."
For the Jaguars offense, the unit is looking to improve on a franchise-low 117-yard effort it had in a 27-7 loss to the Texans last weekend.
Jones-Drew averaged five yards per rush against the Texans but had just 12 carries.
The seven-year veteran is familiar with several of the players on the Colts defense and has a good idea of what the Jaguars offense will see on Sunday.
"We have another tough task with some great pass rushers, a great defense flying around," Jones-Drew said. "One thing you do know about the Colts that hasn't changed, is there's always 11 guys around the ball. That's going to be a very tough challenge for us, finishing our blocks, when we catch the ball finishing our runs and certain things like that. It's another challenge that we are ready to take on and we'll be ready for."
Jaguars second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert is expected to play on Sunday after missing a majority of the fourth quarter against the Texans due to a leg injury.
While Gabbert did struggle against Houston, he had a 96.1 quarterback rating (the highest of his career) in a 26-23 overtime loss in Week One to the Vikings.
For the second straight week, quarterback Andrew Luck's counterpart will be a second-year signal-caller. Last week, Christian Ponder was the Minnesota quarterback.
Luck had a productive afternoon in the Colts' 23-20 win over the Vikings, throwing a pair of touchdown passes along with leading a final-minute drive to set up Adam Vinatieri's 53-yard game-winning field goal.
"I'm impressed watching (Luck)," Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey said. "He's very confident in what he's doing. Very accurate. Very mobile. He's done a great job of making some plays on his feet, which I knew that going in. He looks like he's been around a while, like it's not just his rookie year."
After having the latest possible bye week of the 2011 season, the Colts will now have the first one in 2012 starting on Monday.
The bye will offer a chance to rest the handful of starters that missed action during the Vikings game.
A two-game winning streak and some momentum by capturing their first AFC South game of 2012 would be ideal heading into the Colts' final break of the regular season.
"If we want to be where we want to be in December, we have to take care of our home and everybody in our division," Redding said. "The Jaguars just happen to be our first opponent. so we just have to gear up. I'm pretty sure they are going to come in here ready and fired up to get a win. Our job at the end of the day is to get a win."
Jaguars 19, Colts 13 – January 1, 2012
Trying to win three straight games to end the 2011 regular season, the Colts' comeback effort fell short in Jacksonville. Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert had the lone touchdown for the home team on the afternoon when he found wide receiver Chastin West for a 23-yard score late in the first quarter. From there, it was Jaguars kicker Josh Scobee against Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri. Each player made a second quarter kick before Scobee hit three second-half field goals compared to just one for Vinatieri. With the Jaguars leading, 19-6, the Colts answered Scobee's final field goal as quarterback Dan Orlovsky was seven-of-eight for 82 yards on Indianapolis' lone touchdown drive. Orlovsky found wide receiver Austin Collie on his final five completions, with the last one going for a 12-yard touchdown. The Jaguars then milked the clock as running back Maurice Jones-Drew ran for five yards on a third-and-four. Jones-Drew ran for a season-high 169 yards which clinched the NFL rushing title and set a franchise single-season record. Orlovsky was 27-of-40 through the air for 264 yards and a touchdown. Collie (nine catches for 96 yards) and Wayne (eight catches for 73 yards) led the receivers. Of the 90 players that played in the season finale, 46 are no longer on the Colts' and Jaguars' rosters.
Jaguars Running Back Maurice Jones-Drew versus Colts front seven: The trio of Pro Bowl backs to begin the 2012 regular season concludes with the player Colts fans have seen a lot of in his seven NFL seasons. Jones-Drew ran for a season high 164 yards against the Colts in the 2011 season finale. The Colts players used a variety of ways to describe Jones-Drew this week but the general consensus is the more "hats" around No. 32, the better chance they have to slow him down.
Colts Quarterback Andrew Luck versus Jaguars defense: Perhaps his harshest critic, it was Luck himself who felt the Colts offense should have put the Vikings game away in the second half. The Colts excelled in two-minute drives, but Luck wants to see more consistency out of the offense. Luck made a 54.6 jump in passer rating from Week One to Week Two (52.9 to 107.5), and he will be facing another tough defense this weekend.
The Colts are 15-7 all-time against the Jaguars.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck needs a touchdown pass to become the first Colts rookie to throw a touchdown in each of the first three games since Bert Jones did in 1973.
Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis is looking for a sack in his sixth consecutive game.
Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne needs two touchdowns to pass Edgerrin James (75) for third on the Colts all-time touchdowns list.
Wayne's 117 career catches against the Jaguars ties the most for any Colts player against one franchise. Wayne also has 117 receptions against Houston.
The Jaguars sweep of the Colts in 2011 was the first in franchise history.
Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert has an 82.3 passer rating in two career starts vs. Colts.
In the fourth quarter this season, Gabbert has completed 10-of-16 passes for 127 yards, a touchdown and a passer rating of 108.1
Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey has five sacks and three forced fumbles in his last two games against the Colts.
Jaguars guard/center Uche Nwaneri attended Purdue University.
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on Maurice Jones-Drew):
"You can't see him. You can't find him. He's like a rolling ball of butcher knives. He's got legs like tree trunks, like two sequoias. I told our guys, 'If you try to hit this guy high and don't wrap up, you'll bounce off him like BB's off a tin can.' We have to gang-tackle this guy, but he's strong as heck. He breaks a ton of tackles. He's quick. He's got good vision. I said, 'Basically, the one thing that's the same size on all these (NFL) backs is their ankles. If you wrap him up, you slide down and get his ankles and you bring them together, you have a good chance of bringing this guy down.' He's just a physical, physical back. He's got great talent, and he's got great vision. We have another one this week we have to tend to and do a great job gang-tackling him."
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on the play of the special teams so far and the importance of punter Pat McAfee):
"I think we have a lot of special special teams players. There's a lot of guys out there, Adam (Vinatieri), Joe Lefeged who is playing at an extremely high level. There's a lot of guys out there. For the start of the season right now, Pat kicking the ball on kickoffs and the way he's punted to this point, he's done a tremendous (job). You look at the two (punts) that were downed inside the five in Chicago. You look at when we let the ball hit the ground and we were backed up last week and we were on our own one-yard line and on third down we got it out a few yards but the kick that he made and then we subsequently got the clipping penalty to go along with it and he flipped the whole field position for us. He's been tremendous. He works his tail off all week. You can see, because of his hard work and the time that he put in on the offseason and what he does during the week, it's paying off."
Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano(on his time with Edgerrin James at the University of Miami and him being inducted into the Colts Ring of Honor on Sunday):
"It'll be exciting to have Edge back. I was hoping he'd get back in time to come out and be able to spend Saturday with us at practice and have him watch our mock game and then talk to the guys. But we go back all the way back to our days at 'The U' together. So many great memories with Edge. I'll never forget, I forget what year it was, probably '97 or '98, we went up to Syracuse and just got our fannies whipped. Donovan McNabb was a senior, he was playing quarterback. Kevin Jones was a wideout. They just, they had an All-Star team. We're playing up at Syracuse, we're playing in a dome, it was Parent's Night, they beat us, 66-13. The next day in the paper it was "Route 66." We were supposed to play UCLA earlier in the season but it got cancelled because of a hurricane, so we played them at the end of the year. They were ranked number two and they came to the Orange Bowl and played. Edge, that was kind of his breakout game, he rushed for 299 yards in that game, and the rest is history. I've got nothing but great admiration and respect for Edge and what he's done both at a collegiate level and a professional level. I'm just very excited for him and his family. It'll be a great day for Edge."
Colts Safety Antoine Bethea(on what makes Maurice Jones-Drew difficult to stop):
"Short-guy, low gravity to the ground, compact. He runs hard. He just runs with a type of nasty. That's how good backs run. It's going to take 11 hats to the ball like every time we play. They're going to give him the ball and he's going to try and make it happen."
Colts Cornerback Jerraud Powers(on the importance of divisional games)
"We want to win the AFC South. That's our mission. That's our goal. We've got Jacksonville coming in this week and it's going to be another tough matchup. We want to get this whole thing started off the right way and if we win our division and give ourselves a chance to be in the playoffs, anything can happen."
Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey(on where his team stands two weeks into season):
"I'm obviously disappointed with the way we lost the first two. The first one, coming down to an overtime game away, and then really to come back here and not play well against another good football team, I'm just disappointed. But the one thing I think these guys, having a good locker room like we do, they know the importance of getting over it and getting ready for the next opponent as quickly as you can. It's early in the season, it's two games. It's not doomsday, it's two games. There's a number of examples I gave them, a couple of mine as a player and a coach with way worse things happening in the first two weeks of the season and really good things that happened at the end. So it's way too early to sit here and do any panicking."
Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey(on if it surprises him Maurice Jones-Drew has been able to put his offseason distractions behind him):
"It doesn't surprise me. I'd heard about him, I never got a chance to work with him all the way up until opening week. It was a situation I had never been through, he had never been through, this team hadn't had to deal with that in a while. He was going to be welcomed back with open arms however it all ended. We weren't involved with that, we were working with the guys here. He's come back with a great attitude and he's fit right back. I'm glad we have him, especially with the injury to Rashad Jennings."
Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey(on the importance of getting the ball to wide receivers Laurent Robinson and Justin Blackmon):
"Well, we've got to be more productive in the passing game, no question about it. We've seen flashes the last two weeks, but we've got to be more consistent about what we're doing in the passing game. That's everybody, that's not just those two guys. That's with the protections, the backs, the line and the tight ends. Again, not using it as an excuse, it is a new offense these guys are getting accustomed to. It's going to take a little bit of time. But it's certainly, we feel like it's further ahead than the way we've played as of late."
Jaguars Running Back Maurice Jones-Drew(on if he sees a different Colts defense from years past):
"Oh yeah. The whole team's approach is different. Obviously, in the past it was get to the pass rusher. Now they're focus is stop the run, be physical. Each game presents something different. Obviously, it's going to be another physical one for us especially up there. I'm kind of upset with Coach (Pagano) because Justin Hickman was the best man in my wedding and he had to leave my wedding early to come to practice. That was pretty tough back in April (laughing). It all worked out. He made the team, so I'm happy for him."
Jaguars Running Back Maurice Jones-Drew(on QB-Blaine Gabbert's progress since 2011):
"His command of the offense is the one thing that I see. The way he tells guys where to go. He knows where everyone is. We just have to continue to make more plays for him. When he puts the ball in the air, we have to go get it. We have to protect him a little bit better. For the most part, the way he commands the offense, the way he calls out the backer, he calls the protections, he'll change the play at the line of scrimmage, he does all those great things. When you have a young guy making that step from year one to year two, you only expect him to do better things."