JACKSONVILLE – Jaguars.com senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2019 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.
Up this week:
Mike Chappell – longtime 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, after a 5-2 start, have lost six of their last eight games and are out of the postseason with a 7-8 record. That's obviously disappointing, so what's this team's mindset entering Sunday's regular-season finale?
Answer: It's brutally disappointing considering they were 5-2, they were atop the AFC South and things were really there for them. The line of demarcation was [a 26-24 loss to] Pittsburgh [in early November]. Quarterback Jacoby Brissett sprained his left knee; since then, he hasn't been the same and the team hasn't been the same. Yes, they're greatly disappointed because of what was there. But if you go back to August … you lose your franchise quarterback (Andrew Luck) to retirement, and you're turning to Brissett – whose only real experience was 2017 and you can put nothing on that. I think when they step back and try to get perspective, they'll say all things considered this was pretty good. But they can't and won't say that now because they won't use any crutches. It's better than expected with losing Luck, but they're grossly disappointed with how this thing has gone after the start to the year.
Q: What happened? Was it just the injuries?
A: I do believe Brissett's knee lingered more than they say. I expect we'll get to the end of the season and they'll say, 'Yes, the knee bothered him.' Before the injury, he was 65 percent completions, 14 touchdowns, three interceptions. After that, he's around 54 percent, four touchdowns, three interceptions. He has just been off. They came into the season wanting to be Top 5 rushing, which they haven't been in 20 years. They're No. 5 right now, so they're doing what they want on the ground. They have [running back] Marlon Mack going. The issue is the passing game; they have 10 games with less than 200 yards net passing. They threw for 119 yards Sunday; it's ridiculous. You just can't win consistently against good teams throwing the ball like that. It is the overriding question in the offseason: Is Brissett your guy? Probably not. And if not, how do you get the guy? They're going draft No. 17 or 18. It's hard to move up to the Top 8 to get one of the main guys. [General Manager Chris] Ballard never has done that. It's the biggest question. Everything else pales in comparison to, 'Who's your quarterback?'''
Q: Defensively, how have the Colts played late in the season?
A: They had two rough games against [quarterbacks] Jameis Winston [of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers] and Drew Brees [of the New Orleans Saints]. They gave up like 1,000 yards with 700 passing yards. Brees was 29 of 30; it was ridiculous. But by and large, it's playing well enough. The linebackers are playing well. [Linebacker] Justin Houston was without question their best offseason pickup; he has 10 sacks and has played really well. [Linebacker] Darius Leonard is a quality player. Injuries have killed them in the secondary. By and large, it has been OK and at times better than OK. It still needs another playmaker or two.
Q: Both of these teams are out of the postseason, but are the Colts playing for anything Sunday. Will anything that happens mean anything to them?
A: They're playing out the string. Brissett can go out and throw for over 400 yards. Will it change anybody's mind on what they're doing? No. They're not even in a position to play younger players because they're already playing younger players. I think it is important to [Head Coach Frank] Reich and these guys to go 8-8. What they're doing now is putting lipstick on a pig. They really are. But I would rather be 8-8 and 7-9; it just looks better because you didn't have a losing season. There's really nothing else. Marlon Mack has his 1,000 yards rushing; Houston has 10 sacks. There's nothing other than playing it out and finishing strong. It sort of shows you that Reich has this locker room. That sounds cliché-ish, but they haven't quit on him well and they won't quit on him.
Q: Looking forward, is this team far from contending. I guess it's all quarterback, right?
A: If Brissett doesn't get hurt against Pittsburgh, they beat Pittsburgh and they beat Miami and they're probably in the playoffs. Brissett is probably good enough to get you to the playoffs if everything else is there, but he's not good enough to get them beyond that. They're a quality quarterback away from being really a pretty good team. They don't have that quality quarterback.