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Colts talk: Fox 59 writer Mike Chappell

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles (5) throws during warm-ups before an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, Oct. 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Jim Cowsert)

JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2018 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars’ opponent.

Up this week:

Mike Chappell – Colts beat writer for the Indianapolis Star for 25 seasons now of Fox 59 – on the Colts as they enter Sunday’s game against the Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Question: The Colts, after a 1-5 start, have won their last two games – 37-5 over the Buffalo Bills and 42-28 over the Oakland Raiders. They’re 3-5 and tied with the Jaguars for third place in the AFC South, but they feel like they’re getting hot. How do the Colts feel about themselves entering this one?

Answer: They’re getting better. Keep in mind: they beat Buffalo and Oakland. Oakland’s pretty bad and Buffalo’s really bad, but they [the Colts] are getting healthy. They’re getting [left tackle] Anthony Castonzo back; people like to dump on him, but he’s in the top third of the league of left tackles … he’s good enough. They’re getting [running back] Marlon Mack back and [wide receiver] T.Y. [Hilton] is back after missing a couple of games. [Tight end] Jack Doyle missed five or six games and he’s back. They’re getting healthy at the right time. They have three consecutive home games against Jacksonville (3-5), Miami (5-4) and Tennessee (4-4). If you’re any good, you win three games and see what happens. They’re pretty optimistic.

Q: The statistics say quarterback Andrew Luck is back after missing last season. What’s your assessment?

A: I said during training camp: “If you didn’t know he missed a year with the shoulder surgery, I don’t think you would know it.” He’s playing about as well as he has played since maybe pre-injury – and you could argue he’s playing as well as he has played. He has thrown 23 touchdowns, so he’s on pace for 46. He has his best completion percentage. He’s playing well. He’s making good decisions. He probably doesn’t have all the heat on his fastball, but he’s back far enough that if I have 10 concerns about the Colts right now, he’s No. 15. He’s really playing well.

Q: And despite all the talk about arm strength it sounds like it’s strong enough … _

A: What people must realize, too, is this isn’t [former Arizona Cardinals Head Coach and former Colts offensive coordinator] Bruce Arians’ offense. They’ll take shots down the field occasionally, but they’re more underneath, the intermediate, crossing routes. There’s a lot of West Coast stuff – catch and run. He’s doing this with T.Y. and a bunch of guys off the street. He [Luck] already set a franchise record with touchdown passes to 11 guys: [tight end Mo Alie-]Cox, [wide receiver Marcus] Johnson, [wide receiver Zach] Pascal. It’s impressive the way he’s doing things. [Tight end] Eric Ebron has been impressive in the red zone: seven touchdowns, a career high. But it has been with a bunch of guys. He has one legitimate receiver in T.Y. Hilton. It’s one of the least formidable skill groups in the league as far as playmaking ability.

Q: It sounds as if first-year Head Coach Frank Reich’s doing a good job. Is sounds as if he’s the guy._

A:It’s funny. People need to keep in mind that when [New England Patriots offensive coordinator] Josh McDaniels pulled out of the agreement [in January to be the Colts’ next head coach], Frank Reich wasn’t even on the first list of contenders; he was on the second list. He was the right guy at the right time. This guy’s all substance. It’s no nonsense. It’s accountability. He’s a players’ coach, but he treats these guys with respect. And again: he has brought a different offense. They just got their quarterbacks beat to hell [while running their previous offense]. A lot of it was the offensive line, but a lot also was taking deep drops and telling your quarterback, “We’re going to throw deep regardless.” That has not been the case. They’ve allowed 10 sacks. The last time the Jaguars were in town, they had 10 sacks. It’s just working right now. We’ll see if it can continue. They’re really clicking right now.

Q:Where’s the defense midway through the season?

A:They’re bend but don’t break. They’re high in the league in sacks. They’re high in the league in tackles for loss. They’re high in the league in takeaways. They drive you crazy. They’ll give up 12-play, 80-yard drives … they’re not doing a good job on third down, but they do just enough. Against Oakland, they didn’t do squat until the fourth quarter and [rookie linebacker] Darius Leonard got a forced fumble on [Raiders running back] Doug Martin. They just don’t have playmakers. Leonard is all they have and he’s a rookie. The rest are just a bunch of guys who are playing pretty well together. They’re hanging on as a defense, but scoring 34 points a game over the last five games, that’s all you need.

Q: The Colts as you said earlier can get back in this thing and make a run. What do they have to do to do that?

A: Score. This defense is not going to get any better. It’s crazy to think they’re going to keep scoring 34 points a game – although they have the second-easiest schedule the second half of the season. They’re going to score 24, 27, 30 points a game barring turnovers. Luck’s that good, and Marlon Mack if he stays healthy gives them that pop. The defense is what it is. They’re not going to win games, 17-14; I just don’t think they’re good enough. The secondary is a mess. If they’re playing for something in December, it will be because the offense carried them. I just don’t see how the defense gets much better. Do what you want scheme-wise, but at the end of the day it’s about players. They don’t have enough players.

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