JACKSONVILLE – Senior writer John Oehser and senior correspondent Brian Sexton break down three Jaguars keys for Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana
1. Opening up the offense.You can't talk Jaguars this week without discussing the need to keep defenses from stacking the box against the running game and rookie running back Leonard Fournette. The Rams defended the run in a 27-17 victory over the Jaguars last Sunday to a staggering degree, essentially playing five-to-six linemen and two-to-three linebackers much of the game. That not only limited Fournette to 30 yards rushing in the final three quarters, it also enabled the Rams to sack quarterback Blake Bortles five times after he had been sacked just five times in the first five games of the season. Teams don't believe Bortles can beat them throwing. They also don't seem to believe the Jaguars believe in Bortles enough to let him try. Something about those last two sentences must change if the Jaguars are going to generate rushing or passing offense moving forward.
2. Stopping the run.This also has become a weekly flashpoint issue for the Jaguars, who have struggled at times this season with backs cutting back and finding room on the interior. The Colts on paper aren't a great running team, averaging 3.5 yards a carry while ranking 20th in the NFL in rushing. But whoever the Jaguars opponent, stopping the run is critical. The Jaguars' defense – and the team as a whole – has been vulnerable this season when unable to stop the run. The Jaguars in three losses have averaged allowing 192 yards a game rushing; they have allowed 99 yards a game in three victories. This defense is at its best when rushing the passer and creating havoc – i.e., turnovers – in passing situations. Stopping the run is critical to getting into those situations.
3. Overwhelming the Colts' offensive line.If there has been a thread through three Jaguars victories this season, it has been the ability of the defensive line to create havoc in the backfield against Houston in Week 1 (a 29-7 Jaguars victory), Baltimore in Week 3 (44-7) and Pittsburgh in Week 5 (30-9). That disruption began with the defensive front's ability to win match-ups on the line and ended with 10 sacks against Houston, five against Baltimore and five interceptions thrown by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The Jaguars' offense is one-dimensional toward the running game, so it needs takeaways – and ideally, points – from the defense. The Colts' offensive line has dealt with injuries all season. A Jaguars defensive front that has helped create 23 sacks through six games should have a matchup advantage Sunday.
1.Send the message early. This Colts team doesn't have the quality personnel of those great Indy teams that routinely beat the Jaguars. Outside of quarterback Andrew Luck, who would you want from their roster? The Jaguars aren't elite and have their flaws, but they're built to push the Colts all over the field on Sunday – and they should do it early. The Colts aren't very good running the ball and they're not very good at stopping the run, which plays perfectly into what Jacksonville does do well. They play a physical style of football – call it "throwback football" – well. Score early, pound the ball and keep them in a hole they're not capable of getting out of. The Colts' two victories have come against the winless Browns and winless 49ers; don't let them hang around and pull off the upset special.
2.Take your shots.Every team the Jaguars face will stack the line of scrimmage to stop the run as the Rams did this past Sunday. But not every team will have Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree and Aaron Donald – and this edition of the Colts most certainly does not. So, the Jaguars should be able to run and run and run some more. Here's hoping they avoid that to some degree so they can work on their downfield passing attack against a team that no longer sports pass rusher Robert Mathis – and that has cornerback Vontae Davis playing with a sore groin. The Colts have given up 34 completions of at least 20 yards this season, which is by far the most in the NFL; this should be the game to use the run to set up the pass and let Bortles find Marqise Lee or maybe even Keelan Cole down the field. This would seem to be a chance to work on a part of their game that needs it and that they'll need during the second half of their season.
3.Focus on the fundamentals, everywhere.The Jaguars' run defense was shaky last week in the fourth quarter when they knew running back Todd Gurley was coming. The offensive line allowed more pressure against the Rams then they had all season and special teams were anything but. Now is the time to tighten things down and not wait for the bye week. You'd feel great about 4-3 and first place in the AFC South heading into the off week, but 3-4? It wouldn't feel really good, especially against a Colts team that doesn't have its star quarterback. The Bengals have overcome their 0-3 start and the Chargers shook off 0-4 and have won-back-to-back road games, so the second half of the season is going to see a few hot teams rolling into EverBank Field. It would be a good idea to regain that momentum heading into the bye rather than trying to build it coming out of the off week.