One Big Storyline
You know it, the players know it, the coaches know it, everyone in north Florida knows it: The Colts haven't beat the Jaguars on the road since 2014. That seven-game losing streak, punctuated by last season's playoff-shattering Week 18 defeat at TIAA Bank Field, will be on the minds of everyone watching Sunday's game on TV or in the stands in Jacksonville.
But for the players taking the field, that losing streak is not living rent-free in their heads. It's acknowledged, but not emphasized.
"The approach right now for us really isn't, okay, we've lost seven straight with these guys," safety Julian Blackmon said. "It's, this is the next team and they're in the way, they're a division opponent, we need to come out here and give it everything we got."
Matt Ryan – who's 4-0 lifetime against the Jaguars – echoed that sentiment.
"I've found throughout my career, it's a new team for us this year, it's a new team for them," Ryan said. "It's going to be a good challenge. I think they made good moves on their side. I think it's a team that has gotten better, and certainly an athletic front, defensive front four and good players in the second level. So, we've got our work cut out for us."
There is something to the Jaguars getting up for home games against the Colts, though. Running back Nyheim Hines said he talked to his teammates about the Colts' loss in Jacksonville in 2018 – a 6-0 thud that ended a five-game winning streak, and was the team's only defeat after Week 6 in that year's regular season.
So the Colts know to expect the best from an improved Jaguars roster and coaching staff.
"We're gonna get their best shot – that we do every year," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "It's gonna be another dogfight."
And that improved Jaguars team features head coach Doug Pederson – who won a Super Bowl with Colts head coach Frank Reich as his offensive coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles – and an injection of talent with guys like guard Brandon Scherff, wide receiver Christian Kirk, tight end Evan Engram, running back Travis Etienne, defensive end Travon Walker, linebacker Foyesade Oloukun, linebacker Devin Lloyd and cornerback Darious Williams, among others.
So figuring out how to beat an AFC South opponent coached by a new staff, with a ton of new players – none of whom had a hand in Jaguars seasons over the last seven years – is a focus this week, as is fixing their own mistakes that led to Week 1's 20-20 tie with the Houston Texans.
"Sure it's been a while and sure the media keeps talking about it, so it is what it is," center Ryan Kelly said. "But certainly not what we think about in the locker room."
Who's In, Who's Out
The Colts' final practice report of the week, with game designations:
Here's what Reich said Friday about the guys who are listed as questionable:
- On Pittman and wide receiver depth: "I have a lot of confidence in these guys. I'm optimistic and hopeful that Pitt will be fine but Dez (Dezmon Patmon) will step – if we have to activate Dez, he had a great week of practice. He's had a really good training camp. We have Keke Coutee, who we think very highly of if he ever had to be called up. He's proven in this league he can play and it's not too big for him. He can make plays. We feel good about our guys."
- On Buckner: "He'll be questionable for the game as well. He made progress during the week. I want to be smart and give him the best chance to play. So, really with today being a walk-thru, it kind of afforded – again, the walk-thru decision I can just tell you had nothing to do with any player's injury. There wasn't one player's injury status that affected whether we were going to walk-thru or not today. That was a decision that I thought was best for the team."
- On Moore: "He had that hip that was out at practice. That was out at practice Wednesday. He'll be questionable but is making good progress."
- Reich also added he doesn't think any of the injuries to Pittman, Buckner and Moore are considered major.
5 Things To Watch
- Cleaning up the mistakes & executing better in the red zone. The Colts felt like their 20-20 Week 1 tie with the Houston Texans was a self-inflicted result – the product of a handful of uncharacteristic mistakes in high-leverage situations (like fumbled center-quarterback exchanges). No team gained more yards in Week 1 than the Colts (517), yet the offense converted only two of five trips inside the red zone into touchdowns (and didn't score at all on two red zone possessions). "To gain those kinds of yards, you've got to score 40 points," Reich said. "You can't walk away with 20 points with that much offense."
- What's the plan at kicker? Reich said as of Friday afternoon the Colts haven't decided on who will kick on Sunday in Jacksonville between Chase McLaughlin and Lucas Havrisik, both of whom were signed to the practice squad following a workout on Tuesday. We'll find out if the Colts will roll with McLaughlin or Havrisik at some point on Saturday, when the Colts elevate one to the active roster from the practice squad for Sunday's game. Whoever it is will be tasked with not only kicking field goals, but handling kickoffs – so making sure the Colts put points on the board and have an advantage in the field position battle.
- Grover Stewart and the Colts' run defense. The Jaguars averaged a whopping 6.8 yards per rush in Week 1 against Washington, with James Robinson gaining 66 yards on 11 carries and Etienne gashing 47 yards on four attempts (Jamal Agnew, who ripped off a 66-yard touchdown against the Colts in Week 10 of the 2021 season, also had one rush for six yards). But while the Jaguars had the third-highest yards per carry average in Week 1, the Colts held the Texans to the third-worst at 2.8 yards per attempt. Defensive tackle Grover Stewart played a key role in stopping the run in Week 1, including a critical tackle for a loss in overtime – while 27 of the Colts' 28 tackles on running plays were by either a defensive lineman or a linebacker. Slowing down Robinson, Etienne and the Jaguars' run offense could then help...
- Yannick Ngakoue and the Colts' pass rush. No quarterback was under pressure on more dropbacks in Week 1 than Lawrence, who was pressured on 25 of his 50 passing plays. While he was only sacked on three of those 25 pressures, Lawrence completed six of 21 passes for 75 yards with one interception when under pressure. And when under pressure on third down, Lawrence completed one of six passes for 10 yards, threw an interception and was sacked twice. For the Colts, Kwity Paye had two sacks in Week 1 while Yannick Ngakoue will play his first game in Jacksonville since the Jaguars traded him in 2020 – although he's not over-emphasizing the game.
- The Colts' tackles vs. the Jaguars' edge rushers. On the other side of the ball, the Jaguars' pass rushing duo of Josh Allen and 2022 No. 1 overall pick Travon Walker will be a challenge for every offensive line going against Jacksonville this year. "They're real good with hitting the edge," Colts left tackle Matt Pryor said. "They're real good with their hands but they also like to do the inside move, and also they're big bodies, they're pretty strong. I can expect a lot of different kind of rushes off the edge in this game." Walker had a sack, a TFL and an interception in his NFL debut in Week 1, while Allen has 3 1/2 sacks in five career games against the Colts.