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 TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville.
Question: The Colts' winning streak is now at five, and they have turned a 1-5 start into a 6-5 record with a real chance at the playoffs. They must feel good about their situation heading to Jacksonville on Sunday.
Answer: They feel good about it, but [Head Coach Frank] Reich is keeping them grounded. They don't worry about "five in a row" and getting to six in a row. It's "1-0 this week, 1-0 this week." That's sort of Coach Speak, but these guys are buying into it. They know that 1-5 hole they were responsible for really makes it tough. They really don't have much room for error. They need to split these two road games – Jacksonville Sunday and Houston the next week. If they do that, I think they have a pretty good chance. The game Sunday is huge, because I don't know that they beat Houston down there.
Q: How are they doing it?
A: They're playing well. The defense drives you crazy. They gave up two long touchdowns [in a 27-24 victory over Miami Sunday], but then they make plays when they need to. Offensively they're taking care of the ball; they had one turnover in three games before having three against Miami. When it comes time to do something, [quarterback Andrew] Luck just makes plays. It's kind of fun to see, knowing what he has been through. He's on a five-game roll with 100-plus rating in all five games. He's on top of his game.
Q: You discussed him for our readers midway through last month, but he's beyond a point where this is surprising. He has returned from a shoulder injury that cost him last season and he's back to being one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
A: Early in the year, if you look at the yards per attempt, they were dinking and dunking. They were trying to ease him back in. Now, they're just playing. He got sacked Sunday, which was the first sack that ended a five-game streak without any. But he's getting hit like quarterbacks do. He's had plays where he's throwing instead of running where maybe in the past he would have run it. But he's just playing smarter. He had a couple of stupid interceptions Sunday in the first half, which he hasn't been doing. But anybody who is waiting for him to show signs of not being back has a Luck agenda. If they find a way to make it into the playoffs he's got to be top five in the MVP discussion behind Drew Brees [of the New Orleans Saints, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs and all of those guys. He's playing well and is on pace for 46 or 47 touchdowns. Knowing what he went through, it's kind of fun to watch him be all the way back.
Q: Beyond Luck, it's the offensive line that is defining the Colts' season …
A: They played pretty well against Miami without center Ryan Kelly, who missed the game with a knee injury. I don't know that he'll be back Sunday, but the line kind of all came together when [left tackle] Anthony Castonzo came back against the Jets [in a 42-34 Jets victory on October 14]. It has played really well; it's not smoke and mirrors. The running game is pretty good and they're finding ways. Luck has thrown touchdowns to 12 different receivers, which is one short of the NFL record. [Tight end] Eric Ebron has 11 touchdowns, which ties Dallas Clark's franchise record for touchdowns receiving in a season by a tight end. It's only four short of [Hall of Fame] wide receiver Marvin Harrison's record for touchdowns receiving in a season. He [Ebron] has as many touchdowns in 11 games as he did in four years with Detroit. They're making good use of him. The defense is making some plays but just like in the [former quarterback] Peyton Manning years: This is a team that will go as far as the quarterback and the offense takes them. So far, so good.
Q: You were down on the defense before these teams' last meeting (a 29-26 Colts victory in Indianapolis on November 11). Is it showing signs of being better than you thought?
A: I don't trust it. I really don't. If you look at the statistics, they're in the bottom third in yards per game, points per game and third-down efficiency. But they're in the top third in sacks and takeaways. It's that bend-but-don't-break that drives you crazy. [Defensive coordinator] Matt Eberflus acts like he doesn't know what bend but don't break means. He doesn't like that terminology, but that's what it is. They make plays at the right times. It's kind of hard to rely on a defense to do that for 16 games, but they've done it so far. They keep the game close and let the offense win it, but during this winning streak that's kind of what has happened.
Q:Five games remaining … are the Colts playing well enough to get to the postseason?
A: Nine-and-seven probably gets you in. They need to go 3-2 over their last five games. How they'll do it I don't know. They're playing well enough to do it. This team will go as far as Luck takes them. The defense just isn't good enough to win games. They won a couple early in the year. If the offense does what it's doing, they have a good chance of going 4-1 – and I think 3-2 is the most realistic finish for this team.