JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser sets the table by examining key players, matchups and storylines as the Jaguars prepare to play the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis Sunday
The buzz for the Jaguars is they're looking for a repeat performance.
That doesn't mean repeating the first 10 games of 2014. It means doing what they did last season, when they played their best football in the five games immediately following the bye.
The Jaguars (1-9) have played competitively at times this season, but entered last week's bye with three consecutive losses, including a 31-17 Week 10 loss to Dallas in London on November 9.
Head Coach Gus Bradley talked after the Dallas loss about needing to play at a high level more consistently. And as players left for the bye last week, they talked about being tired of discussing the same themes as the last two seasons. Those themes have centered on improving, and there was a sense after the Dallas loss of needing to do more.
To do that, the Jaguars must reduce mistakes. They have committed 22 turnovers this season, second most in the NFL, and a focus remains on finishing drives and eliminating self-inflicted mistakes.
Bradley said Monday similar mistakes have occurred on defense, with too many explosive plays allowed, as well as missed tackles and missed assignments.
The Colts are still in first place in the AFC South.
They're still the division favorites, too, but through 10 games the defending division champions have yet to pull away.
The Colts, after losing their first two games of the season, won six of seven before a prime-time loss to the AFC East-leading New England Patriots Sunday left them 6-4. That's one game ahead of the second-place Houston Texans.
The Colts lead the NFL in passing yards, with third-year quarterback Andrew Luck having thrown 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, but the offense took a significant hit this week with the loss of running back Ahmad Bradshaw. He has rushed for 425 yards on 90 carries, but sustained a fractured fibula Sunday and is out for an extended period. The Colts also have Trent Richardson at running back, but he is averaging more than a yard less per carry than Bradshaw.
Three matchups to watch
*Jaguars cornerbacks Demetrius McCray and Dwayne Gratz versus Colts wide receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton.With veteran Alan Ball out for the season, the Jaguars' starting cornerbacks are now McCray and Gratz – a pair of 2013 draft selections. McCray has emerged as a solid starter, and while he has allowed an occasional big play his aggressiveness and ability to respond has been impressive. Gratz, who was replaced in the lineup by McCray and who returned to the starting lineup after Ball's season-ending injury, has allowed too many big plays, but has had solid games. Luck figures to throw even more than usual Sunday with injuries at running back, with Wayne still reliable in his 14th season while returning from a torn anterior cruciate ligament and Hilton a dangerous big-play threat.
*Jaguars safety Johnathan Cyprien versus Colts tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener.Cyprien won't match up one on one against Fleener or Allen the entire game, but this area is worth watching. Cyprien struggled against the Cowboys in London, and while he had played well entering that game, the Jaguars' secondary has allowed too many explosive plays as a group. Allen, the Colts' most dangerous tight end, sustained an ankle injury against New England, but hasn't been ruled out for the Jaguars game. Fleener had one of his best games in three NFL seasons against New England, catching seven passes for 144 yards. Tight ends have fared well against the Jaguars in recent seasons, and that has been particularly true against the Colts, with three tight ends – Fleener, Allen and Jack Doyle – catching 11 passes for 102 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-17 Week 3 victory at Everbank Field.
*Jaguars running back Denard Robinson versus Colts defensive front.The Jaguars have pieced together the beginnings of a reliable running attack in recent weeks, with Robinson averaging more than 100 yards per game for three games before rushing for 60 yards on 15 carries in the loss to Dallas. The Colts are ranked 17th against the run this season, but allowed 244 to New England on Sunday.
Jaguars to watch
*Blake Bortles, quarterback.The Jaguars' rookie quarterback struggled at times leading to the bye, and Bradley said he didn't play his best game against Dallas. Bortles has shown promise in seven starts, but with six games remaining, he must continue reducing mistakes and adding more big plays.
*Aaron Colvin, cornerback.The rookie cornerback is expected to make his Jaguars debut on Sunday, having spent the first 10 games of the season on the Physically Unable to perform list with a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained at the Senior Bowl. He is expected to get extensive snaps in the nickel package, giving the Jaguars a secondary made up almost entirely of draft selections from the past two seasons (Colvin, McCray, Gratz, Cyprien and safety Josh Evans).
*Marcedes Lewis, tight end.The veteran hasn't played since sustaining a high-ankle sprain in a Week 2 loss at Washington, but he was moved from the injured reserve-designated to return list and is expected to be active against Indianapolis. He has eight receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown this season, and his presence should be felt as a receiver and as a run-blocker.
Keep an eye on …
*The Jaguars likely will have rookie wide receiver Allen Hurns this week. He sustained a concussion against Dallas, but worked in individual drills Monday and said he expects to play against Indianapolis. …
*Look for Hurns and Cecil Shorts to start at receiver against Indianapolis, with rookie Marqise Lee the third receiver. …
*The Jaguars also likely will have right guard Brandon Linder against the Colts. He missed the Dallas loss with a shoulder strain, but worked Monday. …
*Middle linebacker Jeremiah George (ankle) and defensive end Andre Branch (groin) missed practice Monday. Branch said while he is improving, he doesn't expect to practice this week. …