JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2022 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 2022 Week 2 game against the Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field.
Q: The Colts entered the season favored by many to contend for the AFC South title, then opened by tying the Houston Texans 20-20 in Houston Sunday. How do the Colts feel about themselves entering Sunday?
A: Going into the season, this team was super upbeat. They addressed most of their concerns. They believe they upgraded at quarterback with Matt Ryan, and I think they did. They got a pass rusher in [former Jaguars pass rusher] Yannick Ngakoue. They got a top-line corner in Stephon Gilmore. They brought back the core of their team. They still have issues, but they felt pretty good. Then, they went to Houston and didn't play well for three quarters. The defense was OK, but it gave up two gashing touchdowns to [tight end] O.J. Howard. The offense never really got it going, then their kicker (Rodridgo Blankenship) misses a 42-yard field goal [late in overtime]. If you're a playoff/championship team, no matter how bad you play – and they played bad at times Sunday – you can't miss a 42-yard field goal. A tie is better than a loss, but that was a game that got away. They'll rationalize that they can clean it up, but there are games you need to win. That was one of them.
Q: You mentioned Ryan at quarterback. The Colts acquired him in an offseason trade with the Atlanta Falcons. How has that gone so far?
A: Everything they did offseason … if the quarterback doesn't work, then it doesn't work. If you're wrong on the quarterback, it just hamstrings everything else you do. He was fine Sunday – and probably a level above fine. He had a few issues. He fumbled two center snaps and a shotgun snap, so that's three plays that are gone. He had an interception that was a great defensive play. And he got blown up on a sack/fumble, but he had 350 yards and a touchdown. He did his job. They had 517 yards. Like [Head Coach] Frank Reich said: If you get 500 some yards, that's [supposed to be] 40 points. They scored 20. He played well. He did his job at a winning level.
Q: Running back Jonathan Taylor and this offense were dominant running last season. Can they be that again?
A: He rushed for 161 on 31 carries Sunday. What was impressive was his longest run was 17 or 18 yards. He just pounded away and was relentless. He had 90 yards in the fourth quarter. They were down 17 and they stuck with their run game because they had a player like Taylor. He's going to be fine. [Running back] Nyheim Hines is a fine complement, but the run game will rise and fall on Jonathan Taylor. They're going to throw about 55 percent of the time, but they will rise and fall as much as Taylor takes them. You do not want Matt Ryan throwing 50 balls a game. That's not how this team is built.
Q: How are they defensively?
A: It's tough to tell from one game. They didn't get a lot of pressure Sunday, but Houston is kind of a short-drop, quick-throw team so it's hard to get pressure. Ngakoue didn't have a lot of presence. When they needed to late, they got it. They need to get Ngakoue going and for [defensive lineman] DeForest Buckner to be a presence. They miss [injured linebacker] Shaq Leonard's energy and playmaking ability. But by and large, they played winning football Sunday. They did a real good job in the fourth quarter and overtime, but they need to be more of a presence against the pass.
Q:The Colts haven't won in Jacksonville since 2014 and lost 26-11 there in the 2021 regular-season finale – essentially with a postseason appearance at stake. Is that a factor for the Colts Sunday?
A: You can say, "That's history, that's past, it's a new season," but it's not. Until you snap the streak, it's an issue. What's crazy is there are so many new players on this team. Matt Ryan wasn't here for any of those. Ngakoue wasn't here. Stephon Gilmore wasn't here for any of those. But it's there. Until you get rid of that, it's there. Compounding that was the magnitude of what the 26-11 game did last year. They were embarrassed. Give Jacksonville credit, but you needed to win to get in the playoffs. They had a 97 percent chance of getting in and they just weren't competitive. That clinched the change at quarterback (from Carson Wentz). That probably would have happened anyway, but they can't say it's just another game. It's Jacksonville week at Jacksonville. It's even more magnified now after tying at Houston. You have five of your first seven games in the division. The two that are not are Kansas City and Denver. It's an incentive for them to take care of business early and really to take care of their demons.
Q: Is this a must-playoff year for General Manager Chris Ballard and Reich?
A: It's a good question and really hard to gauge. [Owner Jim] Irsay is not a knee-jerk guy. He does not want to change coaches. He does not want to change general managers. At the same time, they had seven Pro Bowlers last season with a running back who had the best season by a Colts running back ever. It will depend on how the season goes and the reasons, but if this thing were to go south it's hard to imagine somebody not being held accountable at the highest level. I don't think it will be the GM. The coach, maybe, but to me it would take something unforeseen. But the owner talks about excellence. You have to make the playoffs. That starts with winning the AFC South. It will be interesting to see what happens in January if that doesn't happen.