JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2017 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 and 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 (2-4) lost to the Tennessee Titans, 36-22, in Nashville on Monday. They have played the first six games of the season without quarterback Andrew Luck. How good is this team? *
Answer: They're fortunate to have their head right at water line. What they're trying to do is tread water until Luck gets back. [Quarterback] Jacoby Brissett has played pretty well, but he's not good enough to win games by himself yet. Right now, they're trying to bide time. I'm thinking Luck comes back at Cincinnati (October 29) or at Houston (November 5), but then it's going to take him two or three games to get his feet under him. They're really just trying to bide time.
Q: So, this team has to feel pretty good considering its circumstances.
A: It feels good about where it is, but not exactly about how it has played. The two games they have won were against the Browns (31-28, Week 3) and the 49ers (26-23, Week 5) both by three points and one of them (49ers) in overtime. I see improvements, but the offensive line right now is worse than it was throughout [former General Manager Ryan] Grigson's career [2012-2016]. You have three starters on injured reserve; they're just a mess.
Q:What is the Colts' strength?
A:The defensive front is as good as it has been here; they're pretty good against the run. These guys against [Jaguars running back Leonard] Fournette will be pretty good. That was one thing they really focused on. When Jacksonville drafted Fournette, it just reinforced their idea they had to get better up front – and they have. They totally stuffed [Los Angeles Rams running back Todd] Gurley (40 yards on 19 carries in Week 1). They totally stuffed [San Francisco 49ers running back] Carlos Hyde (11 yards on eight carries in Week 5). The numbers are skewed because Seattle ran for 194 yards in a blowout, but they're playing the run pretty well – and that never has been a strength here.
Q: So, is this a team that can take advantage of it and take off when Luck returns?
A: It's a team that can take advantage of the AFC South, which to me is better – but it's still the AFC South. I thought maybe the Jaguars would step up and grab it, but … no. Houston has a chance if [quarterback Deshaun] Watson is as good as he has looked. But if the Colts can get Luck healthy and get other guys healthy they have a chance. We'll see; when [former Colts quarterback] Peyton [Manning] missed all of the 2008 preseason, it took him three or four games to get his feet under him – and that's Peyton. So, for people to think Luck's going to come back and starting firing it around; he hasn't played since last January 1 against Jacksonville. But the offensive line is at the point where they're bringing in guys with virtually no experience. It's going to catch up with them.
Q: The perception around the NFL has been that the Colts' talent is down aside from Luck. Is it going in the right direction under first-year general manager Chris Ballard?
A: It is. What they've done is added a bunch of really good pieces on defense. [Linebacker] John Simon is a solid player. [Linebacker] Jabaal Sheard, [defensive tackle Johnathan] Hankins, [nose tackle] Al Woods … all solid players. But there are no difference-makers. There's no one who impacts the game – even [cornerback] Vontae Davis. They like [rookie safety] Malik Hooker. They like the young corners, [rookies Nate] Hairston and Quincy Wilson. But now the offense is in shambles. It just really is. They like [running back] Marlon Mack, who gives them some burst. But the line is a mess and [wide receiver] Donte Moncrief is struggling. They've not had [wide receiver] Chester Rogers (hamstring). So, yes: the roster is getting better, but it might have been the worst roster in the league last year – and I'm talking Cleveland and San Francisco. The quarterback (Luck) made the difference.
Q: So, there's still some building to do …
A: Yes, and you still need a pass rusher – and how do you get those? You draft Top 10, because quality pass rushers don't hit the open market. They're just scrambling right now.
Q: Offensively, how is this team running – and can it run effectively?
A: They're running OK. They're trying to go by committee with Frank Gore being the feature guy and then they're trying to mix in Marlon Mack. He [Mack] already has had four 20-plus-yard runs in six games. They had four all of last year – and three of them were by Luck. They can run effectively but they're not going to go out and gouge you for a 75-yard run like Fournette can. They can run effectively, but not over-the-top 150 yards per game.
Q: So, when this team wins how does it do it?
A: They hang on. They make just enough plays at the end. They blew a 14-point lead against Frisco and blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter against Arizona. It's smoke and mirrors. Brissett shows you flashes and then he shows you he has started seven games. [Week 1 starter] Scott Tolzien was embarrassingly awful. They've won two games by three points against awful teams. They're not very good, but they find a way to stay close. Brissett gives them a chance because he makes plays, but he's a young kid and he's going to make mistakes. This is still a flawed team. They have a lot of work to do on offense.