JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2020 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 and now of Fox 59 – on the Colts as they enter Sunday's 2020 regular-season finale against the Jaguars at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis…
Question: The Colts are 10-5 after a 28-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday – but they could beat the Jaguars Sunday and still miss the postseason. Considering that, what's their state of mind?
Answer: They're saying, "One Week at a Time," which is fine. But there's no getting over the fact that they were leading 24-7 in Pittsburgh and had everything in front of them in their control. With Tennessee losing in Green Bay Sunday, if the Colts had won in Pittsburgh and beaten Jacksonville, they would have been AFC South Champions. Now, they need to win against a Jaguars team that they historically have trouble beating – and hope one of four teams (Miami, Cleveland, Baltimore or Tennessee) lose. The idea of doing so much good and maybe being the third team to go 11-5 and not make the playoffs would be really tough. But it's on them. Whether you go back to a Week 1 loss in Jacksonville, or that they dropped a 24-7 lead Sunday … it was there for them. It's not like something was taken away from them. This was something they let slip through their hands if it comes to that.
Q: There have been times this season they have been as good as any team in the AFC outside maybe Kansas City and Buffalo – and yet still might miss the postseason.
A: They just haven't had consistency. They beat Houston twice in three weeks and it took a fumble at the goal line each time. They have lived on the edge. But having said that, they made plays to beat Green Bay. They went out and beat the [Las Vegas] Raiders. They beat Tennessee, then got beat by the Titans in Indianapolis when they didn't have [defensive tackle] DeForest Buckner. I've never had them in the Pittsburgh or Buffalo category in the AFC this season, but they have been on that next tier. Then, there have been times where they look like they did in the second half against Pittsburgh where the defense can't get off the field and the offense can't get a first down – and it just snowballs. That has been what's maddening. You just want some consistency. That's just not what they have done. They just sort of lose their way at times. When they play well, they have been pretty good. Then, they have been bad enough to lose to Jacksonville. That's what is frustrating. Who is this team? We'll find out Sunday.
Q: The Colts signed quarterback Philip Rivers as an unrestricted free agent last offseason. How has he played this season?
A: I said before the season that if he gave them 25 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and 4,000 yards that's all you need. That's the pace he's on. He's 24-10-4,000. He hasn't been the problem. He hasn't been a Top 5 or 10 quarterback at all. But he had 24 points in Pittsburgh in the third quarter without his top two tackles. He did some good things. The issue is going to be do you bring him back for next year. I would say yes because I don't know what Plan B is. He has played the last four or five games with turf toe. That has kept him out of practice at least one day a week. But for a 39-year-old quarterback who brought a lot of questions, he has played well. He has not been the overriding problem of why this team might not make the playoffs.
Q: Outside of Rivers, what is this team offensively?
A: They have had eight touchdowns on opening drives, then they sort of go away. It comes down to third-down conversions; they don't sustain drives when they really need to. The running game has been better. They were 30th or 31st in the league in rushing for much of the year and now they're in the middle of the pack. [Rookie running back] Jonathan Taylor is the real deal; he's really good. Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton is getting some life, but not having Anthony Costanzo (knee) at left tackle and Braden Smith (COVID-19) at right tackle really put a crimp in it. They put Chaz Green in on Sunday [at right tackle] and he struggled mightily. They tried Will Holden at left tackle, and he played pretty well until he hurt an ankle. The offensive line has been really good in pass protection until Pittsburgh, when they gave up five sacks. The run-blocking was not very good early, and it has gotten better late.
Q: And you say they have been inconsistent defensively.
A: The pass rush is hit and miss. They got one sack on [Steelers quarterback Ben] Roethlisberger and it was a safety blitz from Khari Willis. They didn't get much push, but they got five sacks each game on [Texans] quarterback Deshaun Watson. The linebackers are playing well, and the secondary is hit and miss. They give up a big play or two every game. When they get pressure, they're pretty good. When they don't, it's a struggle.
Q: Is this a dangerous team if it gets in the playoffs?
A: It's dangerous enough to win a game. It's all predicated on getting their tackles back. They can go on the road, run, use controlled passing, take shots and the defense can play OK. Without the tackles, if the line is not where it needs to be, probably not. Healthy, this team can go on the road and win but it has to get healthy on the offensive line first.
Q: There's no way 11-5 should be a bad season, but it's going to be a weird season to assess if they didn't make the postseason …
A: Only the 2008 New England Patriots and the 1985 Denver Broncos went 11-5 and didn't make the playoffs. If you told most teams in September "We'll give you 11-5 right now and you show up in December and see what it gets you," 28 or 30 teams would have taken it. How do you assess the "doomsday" of 11-5 and not making the playoffs? How does that steer your offseason? It's a strange dilemma, but one that they may face. Is 11-5 a successful season? Ninety-nine point five percent of the time, yes. This time, maybe not.