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Jaguars at crossroads against Colts

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — If their trend continues, the Jacksonville Jaguars will rebound from last Sunday’s inept showing against the New England Patriots, and turn in a solid effort against the host Indianapolis Colts.

After all, Jacksonville started out with a sub-par effort against Carolina, rebounded with a solid showing against Miami but then reverted back to its dismal ways a week ago against the Patriots.

So it’s time for another solid performance against the Indianapolis Colts. Right?

Maybe, but only if only it were not at team that dominated Jacksonville in recent years. The Colts won the last five meetings against the Jaguars and it hasn’t been close.

Other than a 17-point loss in 2012, the last four defeats to Indy have all been by 20 points or more.

But this year could be different. It’s not the same Indianapolis team that the Jaguars encountered in the past, where the Colts’ offensive line formed a wall around Andrew Luck allowing him ample time to pick apart the Jaguars secondary.

Or the defensive line, led by end Robert Mathis who feasted on Jaguars quarterbacks whether he was named Byron Leftwich, David Garrard, Blaine Gabbert, Chad Henne or Blake Bortles.

And that’s been part of the Jaguars’ problem the last 10 seasons. Five different quarterbacks, none of whom had much success at the NFL level and especially against the Patriots.

Bortles at least has a chance to change that. He made his NFL debut against the Colts a year ago in relieve of Henne in the second half of the third game of the season.

It was an impressive showing with 14-of-24 passing for 223 yards and two touchdowns. Unfortunately the Jaguars were down by 30 points at halftime and even though they won the second half 17-14, it still resulted in a 44-17 setback.

Bortles started 16 NFL games since his debut against the Colts. Granted, he only led the Jaguars to four wins during that span, but there were many NFL rookies or first-year players who experienced such futility in their initial professional season.

Besides, with the offensive line and the young receivers that Bortles worked with a year ago, it’s surprising the Jaguars won three times in 2014.

Jacksonville could be at a crossroads for 2015 even in only the fourth game of the season. The Colts just aren’t the imposing team that the Jaguars faced in recent years.

Offensively, Indianapolis doesn’t rank better than 17th when comparing total yards, rushing yards, passing yards and points. Defensively, it’s even worse, as the Colts are not better than 20th in any of the key four categories.

Still, the only one of the eight categories in which the Jaguars have a better ranking than the Colts is rushing yards allowed.

But the numbers between the two teams are not that far apart, an indication that Jacksonville has an opportunity to end the Colts’ dominance in the AFC South where Indianapolis won 17 consecutive divisional games.

This could be the year that Indy’s dominance of the division comes to an end. They Colts are still likely to win the division, but not with the same unbeaten mark that they’ve posted the past couple of seasons.

In order for Jacksonville to move to .500 at the quarter turn of the schedule for the first time since the 2010 season, the Jags will need to get some of their walking wounded to return to the lineup.

The secondary is the worst, with the status of five starters or front-line backups is up in the air.

Get all five back and it could cause for a long afternoon for Luck. Get none of the five back and Luck will likely put up some gaudy numbers.

The likelihood is two or three should be ready to play Sunday and that could leave Luck’s numbers somewhere in between sterling and sub-par.

Indianapolis leads the NFL with 10 turnovers, including a league-high seven interceptions thrown by Luck, and the Jaguars will need to add to that total in order to have a shot at the upset.

But just as important is the play of Bortles. He can’t be missing targets by five yards and allowing Colts defenders to have a field day. Indy has picked off only three passes in three games and Bortles has the same number of interceptions thus far.

Two of his interceptions were game-swingers however, including a pick-six in the Carolina game that gave the Panthers all the second half momentum, and last week when he was picked off late in the first half while driving the Jaguars down the field in a game that was only 13-3 at the time.

Coach Gus Bradley said he liked the way the Jaguars were throwing the ball down the field more and wants to see that continue. Bortles will need to improve on his numbers there however, as he was only 4-for-11 in passes of 16 yards or more.

An improvement in the passing game, a stronger effort in the running attack where T.J. Yeldon and Toby Gerhart both look to be at full strength for the first time this year and what will likely need to be Jacksonville’s best defensive effort are the ingredients that will be needed for the Jaguars to post a win on Sunday.

SERIES HISTORY: 29th regular-season meeting. Colts lead the series, 20-8. Indianapolis won the first five games and the last five games in the series. In between the teams played on fairly even terms. Of Jacksonville’s eight wins, six have been by six points or fewer. The Jaguars earned four of their eight wins at Indianapolis including back-to-back years in 2011 and 2012. But the last two years, the Colts have posted 20-point wins on their home turf. A 17-point loss in 2012 is the closest the Jaguars have been to the Colts in the last five meetings.

GAME PLAN: Once again, the Jaguars will look for some resemblance to a solid ground game in order to take some of the pressure off quarterback Blake Bortles to have to throw the ball so much. Against the Patriots last week, the Jaguars ran the ball only 20 times and gained only 57 yards, less than three yards a carry. That’s unacceptable in the eyes of Jaguars coaches. They would like to average four-yards a carry and with at least 30 rushes. Without that threat of a running attack, teams will continue to drop five, six players into pass coverage with the linebackers well off the line of scrimmage.

Defensively, Jacksonville must find a way to limit Andrew Luck’s success and force the Colts to turn to their running game which hasn’t been a whole lot better than Jacksonville’s in the first three games.


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