JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2023 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 with Fox 59 – on the Colts as they enter Sunday’s 2023 Week 6 game against the Jaguars at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville
Question: The Colts are 3-2, tied with the Jaguars for first place in the AFC South, entering Sunday. They beat the Tennessee Titans, 23-16, at home Sunday. Assess this team entering Week 6.
Answer: I thought if they beat Tennessee, then they had a chance to do something – whatever "something" is. If they had lost, it wouldn't have been a good sign at all. Now, you don't know. That was their third game in five with no turnovers. They have to do things the right way. They're not going to overly "talent" another team, but they're doing things the right way. They're not doing too many stupid things such as penalties and botched assignments. If they play like that, they're pretty good. How far that take them, I don't know. The last time they won in Jacksonville (2014), [former wide receiver] Reggie Wayne was still playing and he's in his second season as a position coach. But I like what they're doing. I like how they're doing it. They're not doing smoke and mirrors. They're in position to do something.
Q: They will be without rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson, who is out with an AC joint sprain. Former Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew II will start. Is this a confident team?
A: Losing a quarterback matters. Lose Trevor Lawrence and see how the Jaguars feel. Richardson's different. He gave them a different vibe. He gave them big plays with his arm. More, he gave them big plays with his legs. You know Minshew, however you want to read that: The good and the bad. He has been good here. He has done what he needs to do. The problem is he's not going to create the plays that Richardson does. If that seems a slight on Minshew, I'm sorry, but it's just true.
Q: Talk about the offense. What are they?
A: When Jacksonville came in here and won [31-21 in Week 1], they faced Deon Jackson at running back. Now, the Colts have gotten [running back] Zack Moss going and you get [All-Pro running back] Jonathan Taylor back. That's different. Until somebody says, "No," they're going to run the ball. They're just going to try to establish that. I'm not calling Minshew a game manager, because he has to make plays, but they want this to be a run-based offense. They have two running backs who can do it. You have to defend that position.
Q: How much better is this team than it was in Week 1?
A: They're better – but then you take the quarterback out. That's such a wild card. We'll see how they can transition not just for a half or a quarter, but for an extended time, with the backup. He played well enough at Baltimore and they beat the Ravens [22-19 in Week 3]. You can't discount that. It also took four 50-yard field goals, so it's a balancing act. The defense is playing well. I like the way they're playing, but it's just hard to win 20-17, 22-19, 23-16. At some point you need to get up in the upper twenties to win consistently. We'll see if they can grow like that.
Q: How would you assess Taylor after missing the first four games on the Physically Unable to Perform list (ankle) and playing against Tennessee?
A: Probably Week 3 preseason form. He hadn't played since December 17 when he played two snaps against the Minnesota Vikings. He was on the field 10 snaps against Tennessee. Will they bounce to 20 this week? I don't know. The hard part is to, to move away from Zack Moss. He has played really well. It's just that he's not Jonathan Taylor. I would think they would have more balance in the run game as far as snaps. But when he's ready, they will go to Jonathan Taylor being the guy and Zack Moss being No. 2. But it's going to be different. All of a sudden, your run game won't be including the quarterback. They'll have to do what Minshew does best. We're going to go from some chunk plays in the passing game to a lot of probably 10-to-12 play drives. It's just hard to sustain that.
Q: You touched on the defense. Assess it.
A: It isn't great, it's good. I hope the rest of the league pays attention to [linebacker] Zaire Franklin. He has just been really good. He set a franchise record last year with tackles. Is he All-Pro? I don't know, because there's a lot of really upper echelon linebackers. The front seven's pretty good. Hopefully they get [defensive end Kwity Paye] back [from a knee injury]. [Defensive end] Dayo Odeyingbo is playing well. The secondary still is a work in progress where you've got so many young players. If you don't get there with the pass rush, you have problems. DeForest Buckner is an elite tackle. The back end just sort of scares me. It cost them the [Los Angeles] Rams game in overtime (a 29-23 loss) when they had a miscommunication. They have allowed a 100-yard receiving game in four out of five games, so that's a concern. I like the way defense plays. I just don't know if the offense can score enough to keep these guys competitive. We'll see.
Q: This feels like an early-season success story. It's a young 3-2 team contending in the first season under Head Coach Shane Steichen.
A: I like the way it's headed. We know the Colts' history in Jacksonville, then they have the next two at home against a couple of pretty good defensive teams with Cleveland and New Orleans. Then they go to 0-5 Carolina and 1-4 New England. If you're playing the way you have played, there's no reason to think you can't be something. Steichen has these guys playing just good football, not stupid football. They're doing things they should do. A lot of the people had these guys written off as a team that was going to have a top five pick [in the 2024 NFL Draft]. We'll see. I don't think they're going to be that bad. It's too bad they're losing their quarterback for some time, but we'll see if Minshew can kind of steady things and keep it going.