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 now of Fox 59 – on the Colts as they enter Sunday's game against the Jaguars at EverBank Field.
Question: The Colts are 3-8 and lost to the Tennessee Titans, 20-16, this past Sunday. Where is this team as it enters Sunday's game? Is it done? How are the Colts playing?
Answer: They're playing as well as they can, and I don't know if that's a compliment or not. There are too many important people out. Of course [quarterback Andrew] Luck is done and hasn't played all year. There's a good chance center Ryan Kelly doesn't play Sunday because of a concussion. If he doesn't play, they have a guy named Mike Person; if he came to my front door with a delivery, I wouldn't know him. They probably won't have their best cornerback, Rashaan Melvin; he injured his right hand on an interception in the second quarter Sunday and I think he's going to miss a game or two. They just don't have the depth to overcome what they've dealt with. The offensive line is a mess. I don't know what else there is to get out of it. While [quarterback] Jacoby Brissett has given them a chance, he's sort of shown you that the more backups play, the more you see they're backups.
Q: You mentioned Brissett. There are times he makes some throws and looks like he gets the offense going. Your assessment overall?
A: I think he's hit his ceiling for what he can do for a guy with absolutely no offseason and no preseason with no training camp. I think we've seen what he can do. The problem now is teams are forcing him to hold the ball too long. I'm not going to defend the offensive line because it's indefensible, but some of their sacks are on him. He just holds the ball too long. He's indecisive. There are a half a dozen times he's broken the pocket when pressure comes, and he slides at the last minute at the line of scrimmage. It's no loss, but it's a sack and it has to drive the offensive line crazy. He is what he is, and right now I don't know what else there is to get out of him. He has been very, very bad in the red zone. They're the worst red-zone team in the league. His rating is 62-something in the red zone, and it's because it's one of the things they didn't work on in the offseason because he wasn't here. They're 4-for-18 in the red zone over the last seven games – and that's just a reflection of the quarterback not making plays. He just doesn't have that grasp of what's going on and I don't know how it gets any better. Offensively, they just don't have it right now – and this is what they are. If they fall behind Sunday, it's going to be blood in the water with sharks.
Q: It looks, though, like the defense is playing well enough to keep this team in games …
A: It does. Thy have lost four games after holding double-digit second-half leads. ESPN put out a note that they've lost six games after having halftime leads, and that's two short of the NFL record. They play well – and a lot of times the longer games go, the more bad teams find ways to lose. That's what we're seeing. It's not that they're having three or four turnovers a game; it's just when they have them, they're just killers.
Q: It sounds like there's starting to be something there, and if they can get Luck back next year, there might be the start of a foundation.
A: The numbers don't prove it, because they were so bad early, but there are some pieces in place on defense. The problem is they're decent guys, but there are no difference-makers. Without that, what can you do? The defense has a chance. The front seven is really good except for the inside linebackers. The offense? It has to be blown up. You need a running back. You need some linemen. You need a couple of receivers. But they're 3-8 – and they're easily 6-5 if they had Luck, because the quarterback makes that much of a difference. If they get him back next year, they have tons of cap space and they have an owner (Jim Irsay) who will spend. This isn't a long process, but it's a long year. [General manager Chris] Ballard knew it was going to be a long year – he really did – but I don't think he thought it would be quite like this. He has made good moves, but he needs a serious offseason of adding decent players.
Q: But you don't get the idea this team has thrown it in. Teams still have to careful of the Colts.
A: Since the Jacksonville game (a 27-0 Jaguars victory in Indianapolis on October 22) – and if that wasn't Ground Zero I don't want to see Ground Zero – they've played pretty well. They should have won a lot of those games since – Cincinnati (a 24-23 loss), Pittsburgh (a 20-17 loss), Tennessee … – and it's hard to understand how they find ways to lose. But they're playing hard and they've not chucked it in. If they had chucked it in, [Head Coach] Chuck [Pagano] wouldn't be here any longer. Whatever you think of him, he has kept this team playing hard.
*Q: What do the Colts have to do to win Sunday? *
A: Win the Jacksonville game? Holy smokes … think back to the days of the North Carolina four-corner offense. They have to shorten the game; they have to establish [running back] Frank Gore. They have to use [tight end] Jack Doyle over the middle on short passes, ball control – and no turnovers. Mostly, they have to protect the quarterback. They have given up 28 sacks in the last five games. That's ridiculous. This is without question the worst matchup possible for the Colts because they can't protect the quarterback. I wouldn't bet on the Colts this week with your money.